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BSI response to study using new ‘gene therapy’ approach to treat allergies

Pollen grains2 June 2017

A paper published today in the journal JCI Insight reports on results using a novel ‘gene therapy’ approach to prevent the development of allergy in studies using mice. In response, the BSI has released the following statement:

Dr Louisa James, British Society for Immunology spokesperson and Lecturer in Immunology at Queen Mary University of London said:

“This novel ‘gene therapy’ approach has many parallels with allergen immunotherapy (AIT) an existing treatment which is effective for many forms of allergies. Both treatments aim to reprogram the immune system so that it learns to tolerate the offending allergen. However instead of administering allergen by injection or tablet as with traditional AIT, the authors of this study have genetically engineered immune cells to produce the allergen within the body.

“Allergies are far more complex than can be replicated in an animal model, and patients with severe allergies often react to several different types of allergen and symptoms can develop over several years. Although the results are encouraging and heading in the right direction it is too early to predict whether this form of therapy could ever be used to treat allergies in humans. As the authors state in their paper “gene-therapy is not yet suitable for clinical application to mild disease in young individuals”. There are simply too many open questions around the translation of these findings from animal models into humans; would the cells engineered to produce allergens produce the same response in humans? How would other immune cells that play a critical role in human allergy be affected? What are the mechanisms that ‘switch off’ the immune response and are they comparable in humans?

“This approach holds promise, and further research is certainly warranted, but claims that a single injection could switch off allergies are over-optimistic at this time.”

The full study that this comment is in response to can be found at: Al-Kouba et al. 2017 JCI Insight doi: 10.1172/jci.insight.85742.