Australian researchers are developing a single-treatment type of gene therapy that could give life-long protection from severe allergies, such as asthma. The treatment has been able to "turn off" the immune system in animals which causes allergic reactions.
"When someone has an allergy or asthma flare-up, the symptoms they experience result from immune cells reacting to protein in the allergen," said researcher Ray Steptoe at the UQ Diamantina Institute.
"The challenge in asthma and allergies is that these immune cells, known as T-cells, develop a form of immune 'memory' and become very resistant to treatments.
"We have now been able 'wipe' the memory of these T-cells in animals with gene therapy, de-sensitizing the immune system so that it tolerates the protein.
"Our work used an experimental asthma allergen, but this research could be applied to treat those who have severe allergies to peanuts, bee venom, shellfish and other substances."
The next step will be to replicate the results using human cells. "We take blood stem cells, insert a gene which regulates the allergen protein, and we put that into the recipient.
"Those engineered cells produce new blood cells that express the protein and target specific immune cells, 'turning off' the allergic response."
Steptoe said the eventual goal would be a single shot that would replace current allergy treatments which have varying degrees of effectiveness.
"We haven't quite got it to the point where it's as simple as getting a flu jab, so we are working on making it simpler and safer so it could be used across a wide cross-section of affected individuals," Steptoe said.
"At the moment, the target population might be those individuals who have severe asthma or potentially lethal food allergies."
In the meantime, researchers have found that omega-3 fatty acids, the healthy oils found in cold water fish and fish oil supplements, can help fight asthma. Scientists at the University of Rochester Medical Center gave asthma patients omega-3 fatty acids and found that all of them responded to some degree. They showed a reduction in the levels of IgE antibodies, the antibodies that cause allergic reactions and asthma symptoms in people with milder cases of asthma.
A New England Journal of Medicine
study in late December 2016 showed that pregnant women who ate fish or took fish oil supplements reduced the risk of asthma in their children
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