Gene therapy – a ‘turn off’ for severe allergies

People living with life-threatening allergies such as asthma are welcoming UQ immunology research into the development of a single treatment offering life-long protection.

A team led by Associate Professor Ray Steptoe at the UQ Diamantina Institute has been able to ‘turn-off’ the immune response which causes the allergic reaction in animal models.

“When someone has an allergy or asthma flare-up, the symptoms result from immune cells reacting to protein in the allergen,” Dr Steptoe said.

“The challenge 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,” Dr Steptoe said.

The findings will be subject to further pre-clinical investigation before replicating the results using human cells.

With more than two million Australians regularly and chronically suffering the disease it is hoped the research can be applied broadly to treat those with severe allergies to peanuts, bee venom, shell fish and the like.

The eventual goal is a single injected gene therapy, replacing short-term treatments that target allergy symptoms with 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,” Dr Steptoe said.

Dr Steptoe’s research has been funded by the Asthma Foundation and the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

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