June 11, 2011

New Allergy Drug Could Give Cat Lovers Hope

Scientists who have developed a drug that stops reactions rather than just treats symptoms have given cat lovers allergic to their pets new hope.

British researchers discovered how the animals trigger allergies in different people after they isolated a part of a cell related to minute particles of cat skin.

The discovery sheds light on how the body's immune system identifies and reacts to allergens. 

The researchers identified a cell component which plays a key role in triggering allergic responses to cat dander.

They said their study could pave the way for improved treatments for asthma sufferers whose condition is worsened by cat dander, microscopic pieces of cat skin, which easily become airborne and trigger attacks like the house dust mite.

"There has been a sharp increase in the prevalence of allergies over the past few decades and allergic asthma among children has reached epidemic proportions in many industrialized countries, including the UK," Dr Amir Ghaem-Maghami, who led the study, said in a statement.

"Despite improvements in patient care, three people die every day in the UK from asthma, and most therapies target symptoms rather than curing the condition."

"Many people with asthma are highly sensitive to airborne allergens such as cat dander or house dust mite "” in fact many studies have shown that up to 40 per cent of children with asthma are allergic to cat allergens."

Dr Ghaem-Maghami added: "A better understanding of how the interaction between allergens and the immune system leads to allergy is vital if we are to develop more effective and efficient treatments for this debilitating condition."

An allergy is a disorder caused by the body's immune system reacting to harmless substances found in the environment.

The body believes it is under attack and its immune system release chemicals, including histamine, causing an inflammatory response and the classic symptoms of allergy, itchy eyes, sneezing, runny nose and wheezing.

The team of immunologists led by Nottingham University's School of Molecular Medical Sciences focused on the role of the mannose receptor on the surface of dendritic cells found on the skin, nose, lungs and stomach.

These cells are among the first cells in the immune system that come into contact with allergens.

The team found that the mannose receptor is needed for the body to recognize potential foreign invaders and plays a pivotal role in recognizing allergens but also in provoking the body's allergic response to them.

Dr. Elaine Vickers, Research Relations Manager at Asthma U.K., said in a statement: "We are delighted to see the rapid progress that Dr Ghaem-Maghami and his colleagues are making in such a complex area of research."

"This is a great example of where Asthma UKs research funding is leading to a better understanding of asthma which could ultimately benefit thousands of people with both asthma and allergies."

The research was published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.


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