A potential asthma treatment

Some 20 million Americans have asthma and many rely on inhalers and steroids to control, but not cure, their conditions. Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center think they have found a promising alternative.

Working with human cells, the researchers found that the drug interferon, a protein found in the immune system, prevents the cells from developing the inflammation that characterizes asthma and other such immediate allergic responses.

In the laboratory interferon enabled the researchers to turn “off the key component that regulates the entire [inflammatory] process,” said J. David Farrar, the study’s senior author and professor of immunology and molecular biology at UT Southwestern. The research was published in the July issue of the Journal of Immunology.

The researchers found that interferon blocks the development of key immune cells that cause asthma – so-called T helper 2 cells, or Th2 cells, which in asthmatics result in an allergic response to various substances such as animal dander and pollen.

“If you can stop a Th2 cell from ever developing, and if you can take a Th2 cell that has already become one and stop it from secreting these asthma-causing chemicals, then that’s really the ‘Holy Grail’ of treating asthma,” Farrar said. After testing whether the protein will stop that process in cells from people with asthma, he hopes to launch a clinical trial for asthma patients.

“We’ve been treating humans with interferon for a long time, so we don’t have to go through early-phase safety trials,” Farrar said.

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