People who suffer from severe allergies or asthma may have reason to celebrate thanks to a group of Australian scientists. Their work showed a possible permanent treatment for a variety of allergies and related responses. Yep, you read that right—permanent. Allergy sufferers, rejoice!
Ray Steptoe, an associate professor and researcher at the University of Queensland, said the team has discovered a way to “turn off” the body’s immune response.
“When someone has an allergy or asthma flare-up, the symptoms they experience result from immune cells reacting to protein in the allergen,” Steptoe said in a university news 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.”
Prevent Allergies Before They Start
Scientists took stem cells and inserted a gene to regulate the allergen protein. Next, they inserted those stem cells into the allergy-suffering patient (for this experiment the “patient” was a lab mouse—this technique hasn’t been tested on humans yet).
Those modified cells, now inside the patient’s body, then produce new blood cells that effectively “turn off” the allergic response.
So, instead of stopping an allergic response after it starts, this therapy prevents it from happening at all.
“If you’re exposed to allergens early in life then you will often develop an allergy,” Steptoe said. “Each time you’re exposed, the response gets bigger and bigger and bigger. What we’ve shown is that we’re able to interrupt that process so that between those re-exposures to allergen that would make the response worse, we can actually turn off the response… What that means is that the disease is stopped in its tracks.”
Other asthma and allergy medications simply treat the symptoms. But this new treatment stops your body’s underlying immune response which causes those symptoms altogether.
While the research team performed tests on asthma allergen, they also discovered the therapy works on a variety of allergens.
“Kids with peanut allergies, for instance, could go to school without any fear of being contaminated from other kids’ food,” Steptoe said in a video describing the findings.
[arve url=”https://player.vimeo.com/video/219614685?title=0&byline=0″ /]
Food Allergies On The Rise
Up to 15 million Americans have food allergies, including 5.9 million children under age 18, according to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE). That means about 1 in 13 children in every classroom has some sort of food allergy.
Between 1997 and 2008, peanut and tree nut allergies nearly tripled in U.S. children, FARE reports. Also, 200,000 people require emergency care due to food allergy reactions.
When Will New Allergy Therapy Be Available?
This new allergy treatment could be as simple as a single injection, according to Steptoe. This would eliminate the series of injections and multiple medications allergy patients now require.
However, patients won’t have access to this treatment for a long time.
“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,” Steptoe said.