Researchers led by Associate Professor Ray Steptoe at the University of Queensland, Australia have been able to retrain the immune response that causes allergic reactions in animals using an innovative new gene therapy.
“When someone has an allergy or asthma flare-up, the symptoms they experience results from immune cells reacting to protein in the allergen,” said Dr Steptoe. 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 to ‘wipe’ the memory of these T-cells in animals with gene therapy, desensitizing 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, shell fish and other substances.”
“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.”
The goal is an entire course of gene therapy that would be provided with a single injection.
“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,” Dr Steptoe said.
“At the moment, the target population might be those individuals who have severe asthma or potentially lethal food allergies.”
Dr Steptoe describes the process in this video:
- Gene therapy could ‘turn off’ severe allergies – University of Queensland News
- Allergen-encoding bone marrow transfer inactivates allergic T cell responses, alleviating airway inflammation – JCI Insight