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Gene therapy could be key to turning off severe allergies

June 2 (UPI) — Researchers at The University of Queensland in Australia have been able to turn off the immune system response that causes allergic reactions in animals.

“When someone has an allergy or asthma flare-up, the symptoms they experience results from immune cells reacting to protein in the allergen,” Ray Steptoe, a professor at the UQ Diamantina Institute, said in a press release. “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 ‘wipe’ the memory of these T-cells in animals with gene therapy, de-sensitizing the immune system so that it tolerates the protein,” he said. “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.”

Researchers took blood stem cells and inserted a gene, which regulates the allergen protein, that was then placed into the test subject.

“Those engineered cells produce new blood cells that express the protein and target specific immune cells, ‘turning off’ the allergic response,” Steptoe said. “At the moment, the target population might be those individuals who have severe asthma or potentially lethal food allergies.”

According to the Asthma Foundation of Queensland and New South Wales, more than two million Australians have asthma and more than half of those individuals have diminished quality of life from asthma 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,” Dr Steptoe said.

The study was published in JCI Insight.

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