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  • New hope to tackle asthma, anaphylaxis

    Author: AAP

Australian researchers have made an "incredible" discovery that could be the key to naturally treating allergic conditions such as asthma and preventing autoimmune diseases and life-threatening anaphylaxis.

"Allergies and autoimmune diseases are both on the rise and we hope this will give us a new way to tackle them," senior author and Australian National University Professor Carola Vinuesa said.

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"We found this absolutely fascinating mechanism of our own bodies that stops the production of rogue antibodies that can cause either autoimmunity or allergies."

It was known that the protein neuritin had a role in the brain and in the nervous system, but researchers have now identified an abundance of neuritin in the immune system, and its mechanism.

"We have shown it is one of our immune system's own mechanisms to prevent autoimmunity and allergy and now we can go on to harness that for treatment," Prof Vinuesa said.


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Researchers pursued an educated guess that neuritin might play a role in stopping allergies and autoimmune disease.

The study published on Thursday in the science journal Cell found neuritin can prevent the production of pathogenic antibodies.

"It is an incredible discovery," ANU researcher Paula Gonzalez Figueroa said.

"We saw that in the absence of neuritin there is increased susceptibility to death from anaphylaxis, highlighting its role in the prevention of life-threatening allergies."

For people with allergies, when the immune system overreacts to allergens - like pollen, dust or peanut butter - it produces antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE).

Allergies happen when the body produces excessive IgE in response to otherwise harmless substances, leading to the release of histamine that causes allergic reactions.

Neuritin prevents excessive formation of IgE that is typically associated with some common forms of allergy and food intolerances.

Many autoimmune diseases are caused or exacerbated by antibodies that destroy tissues and cause autoimmune diseases including lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

The study found neuritin suppressed formation of rogue plasma cells - the cells that produce harmful antibodies.

Researchers hope the discovery will now form the basis of new treatments.

"This could be more than a new drug - it could be a completely new approach to treat allergies and autoimmune diseases," Prof Vinuesa said.

"If this approach was successful ... we would only need to use the proteins our own body uses to ensure immune tolerance," she said.


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