Developments in allergy research

While the provision of frontline medical services for allergic patients in the UK remains woefully inadequate, the research community continues to pursue the search for pharmaceutical solutions to meet the needs of sufferers vigorously.

The discoveries outlined below provide new hope of more effective treatments, and any one of them could eventually prove to be the key to relief for patients.

New allergy, asthma therapy in development

Mast cells, which are the 'villains' in triggering allergic reactions, release vast amounts of pro-inflammatory substances, including histamine, when exposed to allergens. These substances then produce acute symptoms ranging from a stuffy nose, rash and airway constriction to the lethal shock seen in food or venom allergies.

Israeli scientists have developed a technique which involves using a specially created synthetic antibody fragment to target mast cells and reduce their activity, thus preventing an allergic response from taking place.

When mice suffering from severe chronic asthma received this antibody in nose drops, they reverted to being normal, healthy mice in less than two months.

The technique has been licensed to pharmaceutical companies for further development and eventual clinical trials.

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Allergy enzyme better understood

The structure of a key enzyme involved in triggering allergies and asthma has been unravelled by researchers working on two projects funded by the European Union. The enzyme - LTC4 synthase - is part of a complex process that leads to the production of leukotrienes, which cause allergic symptoms and drive the inflammatory reaction that causes asthma attacks.

Some existing medicines block the effect of this enzyme after the process has taken place but, thanks to these latest findings, scientists will now be able to tailor new molecules that block LTC4 before it can act.

From Nature, July 2007

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Key molecular switch identified

Researchers have demonstrated, for the first time, the role of a proteolytic enzyme called ADAM10 that releases a major allergy regulatory protein, known as CD23, from the surface of cells, thereby promoting a stronger allergic response.

The identification of drugs that inhibit ADAM10's ability to release this molecule could revolutionise the treatment of asthma and allergic disease.

Nature Immunology, October 2006

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Food allergy molecule found

British scientists have identified a molecule that is very important for keeping immune responses under control and may be protective against food allergies. The molecule - interleukin-12 - which is made by white blood cells, helps to regulate the immune response by determining a person's reaction to foreign materials, including food proteins.

Researchers at the Institute of Food Allergy Research in Norwich compared cells in the gut and spleen of groups of mice with and without food allergies and found that cells in the allergic mice did not make interleukin-12.

The identification of a molecule that is absent during an allergic response helps to explain how a food protein can be harmless to one person and lethal to another.

The British team is now working with researchers in Ireland to identify whether similar characteristics can be found in human cells, and preliminary findings suggest that this may be the case.

Allergy and Clinical Immunology, July 2007

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First published in December 2007

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