Gene Therapy Has Been Used to ‘Switch Off’ Asthma Symptoms

Gene Therapy Has Been Used to ‘Switch Off’ Asthma Symptoms, by Andrew Stapleton.

Scientists have used gene therapy to ‘switch off’ the immune response that causes asthma, and are hopeful that the same technique could be used to target other severe allergies to peanuts, bee venom, and shellfish, keeping them at bay for life.

The research, which has so far seen success in animal trials, works by erasing the memory of the cells responsible for causing an allergic reaction, and if replicated in humans, could offer a one-off treatment for allergy patients.

“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,” says lead researcher Ray Steptoe from the University of Queensland (UQ) in Australia.

“We have now been able ‘wipe’ the memory of these T-cells in animals with gene therapy, de-sensitising the immune system so that it tolerates the [allergen] protein.”

An allergic response is a hypersensitive immune reaction to a substance that is normally harmless. When people are exposed to their allergic trigger, it can cause anything from itchy eyes and a runny nose to – in the most extreme cases – death.

Asthma is a common allergic response of the airways affecting 2.5 million Australians and hundreds of millions around the world.