Anyone who has ever endured the narrowing of one’s lung airways in response to an asthma attack knows how truly suffocating and life-threatening it really is. For people who live with asthma or other potentially fatal allergies such as peanut allergy, shellfish allergy etc., every day of life is a constant battle with allergens and pollutants. And in today’s age, allergens are just everywhere!
Allergic reactions can be lethal if not controlled in time. And scientists have not been able to find a cure for the condition as yet. Sufferers just have to live with it, forever vigilant and ready to fight it, were it to strike unannounced. Treatment is mainly symptomatic, if any.
So, the news that scientists have finally cracked the genetic cause that leads to allergy attacks and are very, very close to formulating a sustainable cure for the condition must be manna from heaven for people dealing with it on a regular basis.
Scientists working on mice at the University of Queensland, Australia, have made a remarkable breakthrough in their study of allergy-induced conditions.
They have discovered a DNA switch in mice which can be deactivated to neutralize the body’s reaction to allergens, a development that can lead to a highly effective gene therapy to treat diseases like asthma with a single treatment. If successful, it will be akin to finding the holy grail of allergy cure.
Apparently, it is the gene ADAM33 that plays a crucial role in initiating the characteristic inflammation and narrowing of airways that is the allergic response of the body to allergens.
An allergic response is triggered by hypersensitive immune cells of the body known as T-Cells. When patients are exposed to their allergic trigger, it can result in reactions ranging from wheezing, runny nose, swollen eyes, chest constriction, breathing difficulties and even death.
“When someone has an allergy or asthma flare-up, the symptoms they experience results from immune cells reacting to protein in the allergen,” says Professor Ray Steptoe, lead scientist of the team that made the breakthrough.
He further elaborates, “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 to ‘wipe’ the memory of these T-cells in animals with gene therapy, desensitising the immune system so that it tolerates the protein.”
In effect, the potential treatment will deactivate the gene that triggers the allergic reaction, thus providing a life-long cure for the condition. The scientists aim to develop a single, injectable dose that will neutralize the gene for good.
The gene therapy has been tested on mice as of now. The researchers plan to conduct trials on human cells in the laboratory in the near future. If successful, allergy patients across the world can breathe easy.