UCL News


Researchers identify a protein that could banish allergies

20 October 2004

The suffering of millions of people with allergies could one day be eased thanks to new research from UK investigators.

Findings from the University College London branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research (LICR), published in this week's Nature, detail how inactivating a key signalling molecule called p110delta reduced the effect of allergies on mice.

Allergies are essentially inappropriate responses by the immune system to allergens such as pollen, dust, insects and animals. This results in the activation of immune cells, called mast cells, which release inflammatory agents, leading to the symptoms so many of us know so well: runny noses, itching eyes, coughing, skin rashes and wheezing.

Dr Bart Vanhaesebroeck and his team at LICR, together with collaborators from Novartis Respiratory Disease Centre headed by Dr Peter Finan, found that inactivating p110delta in mast cells substantially reduces the allergic response seen in mice. In mice lacking the gene for p110delta, the allergic response was reduced substantially; in normal mice that had been treated with an experimental drug inhibiting p110delta, the allergic response was stopped completely.

Allergies have increased dramatically over the past 20 years, and new treatments are clearly needed. Experts estimate that, in the UK alone, one in three people will suffer from some form of allergy during their lifetime; some nine million people suffer from hay fever, six million from eczema and five million from asthma each year. In the most extreme circumstances, an allergic reaction can be life-threatening or even fatal. This is commonly seen in peanut and drug allergies.

According to Mr Khaled Ali, the lead author of the study, current therapies to treat allergies are mainly non-specific, targeting the symptoms of allergy rather than targeting what is actually happening in the mast cells themselves. "It is hoped that by targeting p110delta, we can directly stop mast cell activation and, in doing so, help end the misery they bring to many sufferers."

"We have to remember though that mice are not the same as humans," cautions Dr Vanhaesebroeck. "Our work points towards a promising future for developing inhibitors for allergic conditions, but we are still a long way from developing a drug for human patients." The LICR group's research efforts are also focused on their findings that p110delta could also play a role in certain tumours, like leukemia, and that targeting the p110delta pathway may one day also be useful in the treatment of cancer.

Notes for Editors

This study was conducted by researchers from the University College Branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, London, the Novartis Respiratory Research Centre Horsham, Frimorfo Ltd, the Department of Biochemistry of the University of Dundee, the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology of University College London, and the Laboratory of Allergic Diseases, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, U.S. National Institutes of Health.

For further details, please contact:

Dr Sarah White, Director, Office of Communications, Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, Email: swhite@licr.org: Tel: 001 212 450 1543

Dr Jenny Gimpel, University College London press office, Email: j.gimpel@ucl.ac.uk, Tel: 020 7679 9739, Mobile: 07990675947

About the LICR

The Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research (LICR) is the largest international academic institute dedicated to understanding and controlling cancer. With ten Branches in seven countries, and numerous Affiliates and Clinical Trial Centers in many others, the scientific network that is LICR quite literally covers the globe. The uniqueness of LICR lies not only in its size and scale, but also in its philosophy and ability to drive its results from the laboratory into the clinic. LICR has developed an impressive portfolio of reagents, knowledge, expertise, and intellectual property, and has also assembled the personnel, facilities, and practices necessary to patent, clinically evaluate, license, and thus translate, the most promising aspects of its own laboratory research into cancer therapies.

About Frimorfo

Headquartered in Fribourg Switzerland, Frimorfo Ltd (www.frimorfo.com) is one of the worlds leading contract research organization specialized in the analysis of gene function in intact organisms. As a supplier of highly specialized services we help academic institutions to discover novel basic physiological processes and the pharmaceutical Industry to identify new drug targets. Frimorfo has collaborations on a worldwide basis with major Pharma- and Biotech companies as well as with major research institutions.