What is it?
Asthma restricts a person's ability to breathe. The inflammation narrows the extent of the air passage. It is a common disease in many parts of the world. Nearly 300 people suffer from Asthma according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. 250,000 are estimated to die from the disease. Asthma patients experience tightness in chest, shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing.
What are the recent developments?
The problem with Asthma and allergies as such is that the immune cells (also called the T-cells) are very resistant to treatments. That is because they have immune memory. Previously, scientists looked at nanoparticles so as to smuggle the allergen past the immune system. Now, scientists are able to wipe off the memory of these T-cells with gene therapy.
Diagrammatic representation of Asthma. Wikimedia
A research done at the University of Queensland led by Associate Professor Ray Steptoe shows some promising results. Dr. Steptoe has his lab at the Translational Research Institute.
The team of scientists took blood stem cells, inserted the gene that regulates allergen protein and then put it into the recipient. The gene produces cells that 'turn off' allergic responses in the recipient.
Through the experiment, scientists successfully terminated any allergic response by the body.
What the future holds?
This study was centered around Asthma. The results have encouraged the scientists to apply the study to provide protection against other common allergies- peanuts, bee venom, shellfish, etc.
Another challenge for the study ahead is an attempt to turn off multiple responses because there may be several proteins one might be allergic to.