New research may result in a single genetic treatment that could offer life-long protection from severe allergies. The research, conducted at the University of Queensland in Australia, is able to shut down the immune response associated with allergic reactions in animals.

The therapy does not reverse the allergic reaction, but instead it stops the reaction altogether. The therapy would likely work for both food allergies and asthma.

“We have now been able to ‘wipe’ the memory of these T-cells..”

The reaction in allergy and asthma is with immune cells (T-cells) overreacting to what is considered a threat. The allergen causes this reaction and each reaction builds on the last, making it more ingrained. An “immune memory” can further make treatment less and less effective. With this new genetic research, however, that can be changed.

The treatment works by giving altered blood stem cells to the patient. These cells have an allergen protein gene inserted into them. The engineered blood cells then produce more blood cells with the new genes, expressing proteins that target immune cells which are reacting to an allergen. The result is, so far, a reduction or elimination of allergic response in animals.

The team is working to make the therapy simpler and safer and to develop options for various allergens and responses. Right now, the therapy is being tested for asthma, but it can be modified for use against peanut allergies and other food and airborne allergens.

Associate Professor Ray Steptoe at the UQ Diamantina Institute said the eventual goal would be a single injected gene therapy. “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.”

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