June 24, 2021

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

New research focused on 'switching off' allergic responses, may hold the key to tackling debilitating allergic and autoimmune diseases.

Allergic and autoimmune diseases are some of the leading inflammatory diseases plaguing the Western world. Although more and more people are suffering from autoimmune and allergic diseases, there are currently no reliable treatments for these conditions. However, a recent study could hold the key to tackling these debilitating and even life-threatening conditions. An immunotherapy has been developed in mice, potentially resulting in an effective treatment for humans.

The research, pioneered by lead scientist Dr John Gordon, from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, was published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. The research was carried out on ‘humanised mice’, which have no immune system of their own, and are instead implanted with human immune cells. This allows for experiments that better replicate the human immune response.

The immunotherapy involves ‘switching off’ the response involved in allergic reactions to allergens. This resulted in the absence of anaphylaxis in the mice that had previously responded this way to allergens.

The immune system can be made to alter its response to an allergen, by having dendritic cells tell other immune cells what to do. The therapy in this research involved taking dendritic cells from allergic mice and ‘re-training’ them outside the body. When the dendritic cells were re-implanted into mice, they seemed to tolerate these allergens, rather than initiate an allergic response.

Over 150 million people in Europe have an allergy, some of which are life threatening, while others reduce quality of life. In a press release Gordon stated, “If we can reliably ‘cure’ food allergies or related conditions such as asthma or autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis with this new therapy, it would be life-changing for affected individuals.”

It’s a leap to suggest this research will work in humans but Gordon suggested, “We predict the [human] treatment could be on the market within the next 10 years.” Considering the length of time it typically takes to get research from lab to clinics, this might be ambitious, but it is certainly exciting to think a relatively non-invasive treatment for allergies could be on the cards in the near-ish future.

Vicky Ware is a PhD student on the STRATiGRAD programme

Banner Image: Allergy Test, Alexander Raths