We are researching the early life processes in the immune system that begin the over-active immune responses characteristic of eczema, allergies and asthma. This understanding is essential for developing more targeted treatments.
Allergic disease is a global epidemic
Asthma, eczema and food allergies are increasing throughout the world and are recognised as an emerging global health issue.
Studies have shown that allergic diseases can progress from one form to another. This phenomenon (called the allergic march) now affects 15–30% of children in Western countries.
Skin allergy or eczema is usually the first sign of allergic disease in young infants and is often associated with an underlying food allergy. These children are then more likely to go on to develop respiratory allergies, such as asthma and hay fever.
Bioinformatics is a powerful new technology that makes use of computer software and analysis methods to probe biological systems. Professor Franca Ronchese and her team are using bioinformatics to investigate the processes that begin an allergic reaction.
Instead of making a hypothesis based on detailed cellular interactions, the technology forces a scientist to stand back and take a landscape-scale look at the cascade of changes that might result from a single change to a biological system. Ideally, the experiment throws up some (but not too many) new leads.
Professor Franca Ronchese is using bioinformatics to investigate the processes that begin an allergic reaction. Focussing on the immune system’s dendritic cells, she is investigating the similarities between various types of cells rather than the differences.
After inducing allergy in two different ways in a mouse model, genetic changes in the transcriptome (all the molecules of RNA rather than DNA) of dendritic cells were compared with a control group.
The vast amount of data created was then filtered to home in on the relevant changes. The hunt eventually led Franca to several interesting molecules whose identities could not have been predicted from previous research.
Molecules and relationships
Studying the molecules on the surface of a cell enables researchers to discover more about the processes going on inside a cell, as well as highlighting unexpected relationships between different types of cells. These relationships can then be explored in further experiments.
Our asthma and allergy research is studying dendritic cells and T cells.
Dendritic cells are a specialised type of immune cell that are found in most tissues of the body where they control the activation of immune responses. There are many different types of dendritic cells and each is thought to have a specific function.
Our dendritic cell research, led by Professor Franca Ronchese is:
- Developing a vaccine for asthma: dendritic cells are necessary for lung inflammation, so they are a potential target of immunotherapies to suppress disease.
- Using bioinformatics to study allergic disease: exploring the molecular changes that initiate allergic sensitisation.
Professor Graham Le Gros leads research programmes studying the T cells that cause the symptoms of asthma and allergy in the skin, lung and gut.
Our asthma and allergy research requires the use of the Hugh Green Cytometry Core.