Gene Therapy: Potential Breakthrough to Cure Allergies

Gene Therapy: Potential Breakthrough to Cure Allergies

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Highlights:
  • Gene therapy for allergy wipes out the memory of the protein of the allergen in the T cells
  • The T cells will subsequently not mount an immune reaction against the allergen
  • This will offer lifelong protection against allergies
Allergies are caused due to hypersensitivity of the immune system to an environmental trigger that may not affect most people exposed to the same allergen. Antihistamines and decongestants are available over the counter for relief from allergies; however, they have to be taken often if the period of exposure to the allergen occurs for a prolonged period. A research team from The University of Queensland has developed a single treatment for allergy that could potentially offer lifelong protection.
Gene Therapy: Potential Breakthrough to Cure Allergies

The research team led by Dr. Ray Steptoe, an associate professor at the UQ Diamantina Institute, has found a way of switching off the immune system and preventing an allergic reaction. Dr. Steptoe said that an individual suffering from an asthma flare up or any other allergic reaction could be undergoing the immune reaction due to protein present in the allergen. One of the challenges in finding a treatment for allergies is that T cells develop 'memory' that is resistant to treatments.

The research team has now developed a method by which this 'memory' of the T cells could be wiped out in animals using gene therapy, an effort to improve the tolerance of the immune system by de-sensitizing it.

Developing Immunity Against Allergy

The study carried out by the research team from The University of Queensland utilized an experimental asthma allergen. However, Dr. Steptoe said that the findings from this study could be used for protection against shellfish, bee venom and peanut allergies.

He also said that further pre-clinical studies needed to be carried out before this study could be used in clinical trials.

Steps involved in the development of immunity against the allergen were:
  • Stem cells from the blood were isolated and a gene that is associated with regulation of allergy was inserted into them.
  • These genetically altered blood stem cells were then re-introduced into the study participant.
  • The genetically modified cells produced blood cells that expressed a certain allergen protein, targeting the immune system, which reversed the allergic response.
The Future of Allergy Therapy:

Dr. Steptoe stated that the final aim of the study is to develop a method by which a single injected gene therapy could be used for therapy against allergy, replacing the current treatments methods that are temporary. Though there still are considerable steps involved before such a procedure will become available, the research team is working on making it simpler.

The research team is focusing its attention on individuals who suffer from extreme allergy, like severe asthma or life threatening food allergies. The study was initiated to find an effective method of treatment for the more than 2 million Australians who have asthma.

Allergy Prevalence in India:

Allergy is growing at a steady pace in India, both in terms of numbers as well as in severity. Some of the most common allergic reactions are:
  • Asthma
  • Food allergy
  • Rhinitis
  • Urticaria
  • Anaphylaxis
  • Drug allergy
  • Angioedema
  • Insect allergy
  • Eczema
A study carried out in Delhi approximately in 1964 reported that about 10% of the Indian population had allergic rhinitis and 1% had asthma. A recent analysis from 2015 has shown that 20 to 30% of the population suffers from allergic rhinitis and 15% develop asthma. This comparison shows that the incidence of allergies has risen dramatically in India.

In fact, a multi-center population study was carried out by the Epidemiology of Asthma, Respiratory Symptoms and Chronic Bronchitis (INSEARCH) in 2012. Twelve study centers were covered, in urban as well as rural areas.

The study found that the prevalence of bronchial asthma was 2.05%, while the prevalence rates of asthma among Indian children was found to be 7.2ą5.4 %

There is an increased need for the development of therapeutic strategies that control the rise in the number of allergic reactions. The current study by reveals a potential method of treatment of allergy that could limit the need for short-term antihistamines.

Dr. Steptoe further stated that there are a number of challenges that are faced by patients in self- management. While there are certain allergens that an individual can safeguard against, like pet allergy or certain food allergies by being cautious and removing the allergen, there are certain other allergens that could be caused by environmental pollution which could be rampant. Such allergens could give rise to frequent allergic reactions that could affect the quality of life led by the individual.

A single injection against allergy using gene therapy could potentially improve allergy treatment and provide lifelong cure.

References:
  1. Allergy - (https:medlineplus.gov/allergy.html)
Source: Medindia

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