of US scientists are developing a novel technology that may revolutionise the
treatment of asthma and allergies.
By “hiding” allergens inside miniscule
nanoparticles injected directly into the bloodstream, they have been able to
trick the immune system into ignoring substances that would normally cause an
and other allergic diseases occur when the immune system misidentifies harmless
substances like pollen (known as allergens or antigens) as a threat to the body,
triggering a vigorous inflammatory response that causes symptoms such as
itchiness, sneezing, coughing, shortness
of breath and skin rashes.
Read: Who gets asthma? (Prevalence)
shots (or immunotherapy) are a widely used to treat this condition. Over a
lengthy period of time, the patient is exposed to gradually increasing doses of
the antigen that sets off their allergic reaction. This desensitises them to
the substance and reduces the severity of the symptoms.
the procedure has some major downsides: it involves a considerable risk of
unintended negative reactions and takes a long time to take effect. The new study
promises significant improvements on both counts.
are tiny bits of material less than 100 nanometres – that’s 0.0001 millimetres
– in size. They have been employed to treat allergies and asthma in a laboratory
environment with moderate success during the past few years.
nanoparticles are used as carriers transporting antigens into the patient’s
bloodstream. The breakthrough in the new study came when researchers enclosed
the antigens inside the nanoparticles instead of simply coating them onto their
Clinical trials soon
process that has been likened to the Trojan Horse of Greek mythology, the
antigen is encapsulated inside tiny particles of a biodegradable material
called poly(lactide-co-glycolide), or
PLG. The immune system doesn’t consider these nanoparticles as harmful,
allowing for the speedy, efficient and safe delivery of antigens which results
in tolerance to the substance without causing detrimental side effects.
the technique has been successfully implemented in mice, but the scientists are
confident that it can soon be tested in clinical trials involving human
Stephen Miller, one of the co-authors of the study, describes the new method as
a “universal treatment” that will be effective for a variety of allergic
conditions. "Depending on what allergy you want to eliminate, you can load
up the nanoparticle with ragweed pollen or a peanut protein."
Read: When allergies turn deadly
as shutting down immune system attacks on specific antigens, the nanoparticle
procedure also tends to increase the number of so-called regulatory T cells –
specialised immune cells that aid the body in identifying harmless substances
as they enter the airways and that have a calming effect on the immune system.
Drug delivery system
allergy and asthma sufferers, the results are very promising. According to
Miller, "the findings represent a novel, safe and effective long-term way
to treat and potentially 'cure' patients with life-threatening respiratory and
involving nanoparticles are being explored in several other medical fields,
including genetic and tissue engineering, the early detection of infectious
diseases, gene therapy and the treatment of bacterial infections.
Read: Nanoparticles may kill cancer cells
area in which they are proving to be especially promising is as drug delivery
systems. Attached to nanoparticles, medicines may be transported to specific
sites, including disease locations, in the body and may be released en route as well as at the final
particles may, for instance, be designed to deliver chemotherapy drugs directly
to cancer cells. In another example, nanoparticles that are sensitive to
pressure may release drugs which dissolve blood clots when they pass through
parts of an artery that are partially blocked by such a clot.
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