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Breakthrough In Search for the Cause of Eczema

Malaghan Institute of Medical ResearchScientists have found a unique type of immune cell in the skin that could unlock a potential cure for eczema and other allergies, including asthma and hay fever.

Researchers involved in the study say the discovery of the Dermal Innate Lymphocyte 2 immune cell forces a revision in current thinking of how allergic diseases arise in the first place.

Researchers were able to see how the new immune cells move through the skin, what they interact with and for how long, says lead investigator Professor Graham le Gros, from the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research.

He said: “Critically we have been able to show that these cells have the potential to cause skin allergy in experimental models. By being able to link this new cell type to skin allergy, there is a greater possibility we can now find ways to stop the onset of allergic disease.”

Numerous studies have shown that allergic disease can progress from one form to another throughout a child’s life – a phenomenon known as ‘allergic march’. Allergic march now affects 15-30 per cent of children in Western countries.

Skin allergy is usually the first sign of allergic disease in young infants and is often associated with an underlying food allergy. These children are more likely to develop respiratory allergies, such as asthma and hay fever, as they get older.

“We believe that prevention of allergic disease early in life is critical, to halt progression along the allergic march. Since allergic disease is immune-mediated, the most obvious target for new therapies is the earliest stages of the allergic immune response, added Prof le Gros. “These newly discovered skin immune cells might just be the ‘Holy Grail’ we have been searching for.”

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Issue: Spring 2013