Immune Tolerance in Allergy & Asthma
In the U.S. alone, between 40 and 50 million people suffer from allergies and 17 million have asthma. Worldwide, there are approximately 155 million asthmatics - more than half the population of the entire United States.
Allergy and asthma are intertwined in many ways - allergies can worsen asthma and induce an attack. Allergies during infancy often precede the development of asthma. But what causes allergies?
Allergies occur when the body's immune system over-react to a more or less harmless substance. Hayfever, for instance, is an immune system reaction to grass or tree pollens. These pollens on their own are of little harm to your health, however, in certain people, the immune system launches a coordinated attack to try to rid the body of what it believes is a serious threat. Food and drug allergies can be particularly dangerous, as they can often cause a condition known as anaphylaxis, a rapid and severe reaction that can lead to shock. Substances that cause allergies, are known as "allergens."
The available treatments for allergies are varied. In cases of food allergy, unfortunately, the best we can do right now is to avoid the food that causes the allergy. For most minor allergic conditions, however, treatments are available that can control the symptoms of the allergy -- antihistamines for the sinus inflammation and runny nose of hayfever, for instance. These medicines relieve symptoms, however, they do not cure the underlying problem.
A technique called "allergen immunotherapy", however, can. For some allergies, regular, repeated administration of the allergen over a long period of time, done under the supervision of physicians, can cure the allergy. It is not a new technique. In fact, it was first tried over 80 years ago. Unfortunately, while it has been proven to work for certain airborne allergens, it is often ineffective because patients do not finish the therapy -- it requires allergy shots approximately twice a week for several years, a difficult thing for people to do in this busy world.
The Immune Tolerance Network is seeking to develop new, improved methods of combating allergy and asthma that require a much shorter treatment period, and, with some work, higher rates of success than conventional immunotherapy. We are also interested in finding ways to prevent the development of allergies, and the asthma that often results, in young children.
Click on 'Clinical Trials ' on the menu to the left to view a list of ITN clinical trials in allergy and asthma that are now enrolling volunteers.