Immune Tolerance in Allergy & Asthma
Allergy and asthma are intertwined in many ways. Allergies during infancy often precede the development of asthma. Additionally, Allergies can worsen asthma and induce an attack. Allergies occur when the body's immune system over-reacts to a more or less harmless substance. Food and drug allergies can be particularly dangerous, as they can often cause anaphylaxis, a rapid and severe reaction that can lead to shock.
The available treatments for allergies are varied and only relieve symptoms without curing the underlying problem. A technique called "allergen immunotherapy," where regular, repeated administration of the allergen over a long period of time, done under the supervision of physicians, can induce desensitization for some allergies. Unfortunately, while it has been confirmed to work for certain airborne allergens, it has not been proven to be permanent.
The Immune Tolerance Network (ITN) is seeking to develop new, improved methods of combating allergy and asthma that will be durable while requiring a much shorter treatment period, with higher rates of success than conventional immunotherapy. The ITN is also interested in finding ways to prevent the development of allergies, and the asthma that often results, in young children.
Research Focus - Allergy & Asthma
The ITN’s portfolio has focused on modifying validated desensitization protocols to induce durable tolerance. These studies were designed to test whether allergens could induce tolerance by altering the allergen structure, the timing of administration or the route of administration, and whether early allergen introduction in at-risk children could prevent future allergies. The ITN is currently developing novel trials to advance desensitization to true tolerance by focusing on combination therapies that administer allergen in the context of an immune modifying therapy (called “allergen plus”). The goal is to target known allergic pathways in a manner that will facilitate non-inflammatory recognition and processing of antigens to enhance the efficacy and safety of immunotherapy. The ITN will also continue to explore new allergen preparations and routes of administration to maximize the effectiveness of true tolerogenic protocols.
The ITN is also pioneering the in vitro definition of allergen-specific tolerance. As part of this effort the ITN has initiated a set of pilot studies to map detailed, time-dependent immune responses to allergen immunotherapy, as well as to refine methodologies for optimal specimen collection and processing. The goal is to use this information to design treatment regimens and clinical studies that better target allergic pathways and promote tolerance.