Researchers have uncovered a method to overcome inflammation and exacerbated activity of immune T-cells caused by severe allergies, according to a report published in the journal JCI Insight. The team at The University of Queensland in Australia found a way to “turn-off” specific mechanisms of the immune system that are responsible for the symptoms of allergic reactions, such as asthma.
The findings were reported in an article titled “Allergen-encoding bone marrow transfer inactivates allergic T cell responses, alleviating airway inflammation.”
“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,” Raymond Steptoe, PhD, senior author of the study, said in a press release. “We have now been able ‘wipe’ the memory of these T-cells in animals with gene therapy, desensitizing the immune system so that it tolerates the protein [that triggers the allergy].”
The research team found that by genetically manipulating a subset of immune cells called dendritic cells (DCs) to express the protein that would cause an allergic reaction, they could regulate the process of activation of T-cell responses and inflammation that characterizes an allergy.
Normally DCs are responsible to present foreign proteins to the T-cells so they can promote any needed protective reaction. By altering DCs to present an allergen protein, they will communicate with T-cells and ultimately prevent an over-activation of the immune system.
“Our work used an experimental asthma allergen, but this research could be applied to treat those who have severe allergies to peanuts, bee venom, shell fish and other substances,” Steptoe said.
Transferring those engineered DC cells into animal models of asthma showed they could prevent the inflammatory process progression and damage to lung tissues. The beneficial effects were more pronounced in animals in early stages of the disease. However, this new method also showed a clinically meaningful effect in animals with more severe symptoms, reversing the inflammation and reducing the airways’ hyper-responsiveness.
These findings will be investigated further in pre-clinical studies. Nevertheless, the research team expects the results to help develop a single injected gene therapy that can replace the standard therapies that target allergy symptoms.
“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.
“The Foundation welcomes the findings of this research and looks forward to a day in the future when a safe one-off treatment may be available that has the potential to eliminate any experience of asthma in vulnerable patients,” said Peter Anderson, CEO at Asthma Foundation of Queensland and New South Wales.