Allergies & Asthma
Allergies and asthma are immune mediated diseases that occur when the body’s immune system overreacts to a foreign substance (an allergen), such as pollen or animal dander, that in most people is generally harmless.
People react to the proteins in these allergens with an antibody made by specialized immune cells that release chemicals which cause sneezing, itching in the nose, eyes and ears, and in rare cases the life-threatening reaction anaphylaxis. Asthma is often triggered by these types of allergic reactions. Allergies can range from mild to severe. For some people they can compromise quality of life and even be life-threatening.
More than 25 percent of Americans suffer from allergies and asthma, with allergies affecting more than 50 million and asthma affecting approximately 25 million.
Allergen specific immunotherapy (allergy vaccine therapy) remains the primary treatment for certain types of allergies. In this therapy, patients are vaccinated with increasing doses of allergens with the goal of improving the body’s immune tolerance to the substance. However, these current therapies require months to years of treatment and in some cases may also cause life-threatening symptoms such as low blood pressure and anaphylactic shock.
BRI is a worldwide leader in investigating better ways to diagnose, treat and cure allergies and asthma. Research at BRI focused on allergies and asthma includes:
BRI and Virginia Mason evaluate new therapies for allergies and asthma through clinical research studies.
Scientists work with allergy and asthma biomarkers to better understand the immune response that leads to allergic reaction, monitoring disease progression and focusing new allergy vaccine therapies on the portions of the allergen molecule that provoke immune response. BRI researchers have discovered the allergen specific T cells of the immune system that cause allergic disease. They have created a way to identify them and use them as biomarkers of disease. They are currently studying them in clinical research trials for peanut allergies.
Researchers investigate the cellular mechanisms underlying allergies and asthma. Immunology Research Program scientists at BRI are studying the inflammatory and immune responses to lung infection and allergic reactions to better understand disease progression. They identified Thymic Stromal Lymphoprotien (TSLP) as a key factor that helps initiate the inflammatory cascade that leads to the onset and progression of asthma and allergies. BRI studies continue to investigate the mechanism of TSLP to understand how it promotes disease and have shown an elevated level of TSLP in people with these diseases.
Benaroya Research Institute now leads an Asthma and Allergic Diseases Cooperative Research Center in Seattle to study the immune system response to allergens in the lungs. The center is a collaboration of researchers from BRI, UW Medicine and Seattle Children’s Research Institute working to gain insights into the lung epithelium—the interface between the inside of the lung and the outside environment—to inform the development of new treatments and therapies for allergies and asthma