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Malaghan Institute unravels mysteries of allergic response

18 August 2014

Malaghan Institute unravels mysteries of allergic response

Researchers at the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research in Wellington are a step closer to unravelling some of the mysteries surrounding what triggers an allergic response.

Research headed by Professor Franca Ronchese and now published in the Journal of Immunology, concludes that allergies change the properties of a certain type of dendritic cell found in the skin. It’s the dendritic cell that then tells the immune system how to respond.

“This study is significant because, while we know a lot about the symptoms of allergies, comparatively little is understood about the detail of what starts an allergic response,” says Doctor Lisa Connor, Research Fellow at the Malaghan Institute’s Immune Cell Biology Programme.

“This research is exciting news for the Malaghan Institute. Years of research around the world demonstrate that dendritic cells play a key role in the immune system owing to their ability to control both immune tolerance and immunity. The ultimate goal of a team of researchers at the Institute is to use these new discoveries to develop ways of generating therapeutic immunotherapies against allergies. In essence, Malaghan Institute researchers are seeking an “off switch” for allergic responses.”

Whilst the progress reported in the paper fills a gap in our knowledge, many challenges remain. For many diseases, including allergies, key pieces of the immune pathways remain unclear. It is now recognised that there is a progression of disease; children with dermatitis are more likely to develop food allergies, followed by respiratory allergies such as asthma and hay fever. This progression is called the ‘allergic march’. It is thought that by inhibiting the early development of allergic diseases the likelihood of more severe forms occurring later in life should decrease.

The research focused on the skin, so next steps will include looking at dendritic cells in the gut and lungs; as well as developing a detailed inventory of their characteristics and behaviour.

Allergies are very common and affect about one in three New Zealanders at some time in their lives. The incidence of allergic diseases has increased significantly over the last two and a half decades, and is regarded to be a global epidemic.

This study was supported by the Health Research Council of New Zealand.

Publication details
Connor LM, Choot Tang S, Camberis M, Le Gros G, Ronchese F (2014) Helminth-conditioned dendritic cells prime CD4+ T cell to IL-4 production in vivo. Journal of Immunology.

About the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research
The Malaghan Institute of Medical Research is New Zealand’s leading vaccine and immunology research institute and is based at Victoria University of Wellington’s Kelburn campus. The Institute operates independently and is a charitable trust. Researchers at the Malaghan Institute are focused on developing innovative ways to harness the strength and potency of the immune system, the body’s own natural defence against disease, to treat cancer, asthma and allergy, arthritis, multiple sclerosis and infectious disease.


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