Discovery could stop allergies before they begin

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Pablo F Canete, pictured, has discovered a new cell type that stops allergies before they begin.

RESEARCHERS from ANU have discovered a new cell type that could stop allergies and deadly anaphylaxis before they even begin.

It’s huge news for Australia, which has one of the highest rates of allergies in the world (one in five), and lead researcher and PhD scholar Pablo F Canete says rates are increasing.

He says the finding, though, gives hope to people who live with a range of allergic conditions including asthma, eczema and life-threatening anaphylaxis.

During the research, the team analysed more than 200 tonsil tissue samples, including a cohort of 50 blood samples from the same tonsils, donated by children undergoing tonsillectomies. The research identified a new cell type of the immune system, which may help prevent allergies, when they were studying the tonsils of children undergoing routine tonsillectomies.

“In allergic individuals, the immune system thinks that harmless particles like peanuts, dust or common allergens are a threat,” Mr Canete says.

“The immune system then mounts a response which manifests itself from mild localised symptoms like a runny nose during hay fever season, to very aggressive systemic inflammation like anaphylaxis.”

He says for people with allergies, when the immune system overreacts to allergens – like pollen, dust or peanut butter – it produces antibodies called Immunoglobulin E, (IgE). The IgE antibodies then trigger a chain of events that result in allergic reactions.

“Our study shows this previously unknown cell prevents the formation of IgE, which is the key trigger of allergic conditions,” Mr Canete says.

“The cell stops the very first step in causing an allergic disease. If you don’t have excessive IgE levels, you generally do not develop allergies.

“We know how these diseases work but we know very little of how the immune system suppresses or regulates allergic diseases.”

The discovery could create a new approach for future allergy treatments and Mr Canete says it’s a new way of thinking about allergies and treatment.

“This cell has a profound effect on the first part of the allergic reaction,” he says.

The Co-director for the Centre for Personalised Immunology at ANU, Prof Carola Vinuesa says this breakthrough could help to develop therapies that are more targeted.

“Instead of antihistamines, which help deal with allergic reactions, we could potentially modulate the immune system and stop the reaction before it even begins,” she says.

The research was conducted in the laboratory of Professor Carola Vinuesa at the John Curtin School of Medical Research and funded by the National Health and Medical Research council (NHMRC)


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