Scientists at BRI, led by Erik Wambre, PhD, made the breakthrough discovery that could change allergy research worldwide, by identifying a single type of cell that appears to drive all allergies. This cell, called Th2A, could be a promising focal point for future research to improve diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of allergies. Additionally, the cell could be used as an indicator to show whether a person has an allergy or is responding to therapy.
“For the first time, BRI researchers have identified and are able to target a unique type of cell that causes allergies. Up until now, we couldn’t easily identify the ‘bad guy’ cells triggering allergies from the ‘good guy’ cells protecting the body,” says Steven Ziegler, PhD, BRI director of Immunology Program. “This makes allergy research much more straightforward and opens the door to drug development that could target this common enemy and transform treatment.”
Allergies affect 50 million people in the United States, and food allergies have become more common, affecting more people in recent years. Allergies are caused when the immune system detects an allergen such as pollen, peanuts or pet dander, and overreacts by producing antibodies to fight the allergens. The antibodies release histamine and other chemicals that can cause sneezing, life-threatening reactions and other symptoms.
Dr. Wambre began this study seven years ago by examining a type of immune cell, Th2, which helps coordinate how the immune system responds to parasites, viruses and bacterial infections, but also leads to allergies. As Wambre and his colleagues analyzed the blood samples from BRI’s Allergy and Asthma Biorepositories containing these cells, they discovered a specialized subtype of cell, which they called Th2A, which is present in people with allergies but almost entirely absent from people who don’t have allergies. Thanks to a strong collaboration between Virginia Mason’s Drs. Jeong, Robinson and Farrington and their patients, Wambre’s lab was able to obtain the information and blood samples that made this discovery possible
“This could make allergy research much more directed, since scientists can now focus on specific cells involved in generating allergies,” says James Baker, Jr., MD, CEO and chief medical officer of Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) the world’s largest non-profit organization dedicated to food allergy awareness, education, research, and advocacy. “We’re hopeful that studying Th2A cells will quickly improve our understanding of how allergies develop, and lead to therapeutic approaches to block allergies. This would improve the lives of allergy sufferers tremendously. ”
For more information about this research, read the news release.
August 2, 2017
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