A new research alliance focuses on a molecular master switch suspected of igniting the inflammatory immune response that drives asthma and other allergic diseases.
The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center and Baylor College of Medicine have launched the Texas Medical Center Asthma and Allergic Diseases Cooperative Research Center, funded by a $5.6 million five-year grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health.
"We can manage asthma, but there is no cure. Finding the cause of asthma is a fundamental question in immunology," said principal investigator Yong Jun Liu, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Immunology at M. D. Anderson. "The molecule we are studying, known as TSLP, appears to represent a very, very early trigger between allergens that find their way into the lungs and asthma."
"This program is focused on trying to delineate the mechanisms by which viruses and allergens are able to initiate and drive the allergic response and progression of asthma," said Dr. David Huston, professor of immunology at BCM , director of the college's Biology of Inflammation Center, and co-principal investigator. "It's probably the hottest area right now in the study of allergic diseases."
The incidence and severity of asthma, a debilitating and potentially life-threatening constriction and inflammation of the airways, has increased over the past 20 years, with more than 155 million people affected in developed countries alone.
Earlier research by Liu established that inhalation of allergens, such as pollen or viruses, sets off production of TSLP in the lining of the lungs (epithelial cells) and by specialized cells known as mast cells. TSLP then launches a molecular cascade that results in overproduction of the immune system T cell known as Th2, a known culprit in the inflammation that causes chronic asthma.