TCD Scientists Make Important Breakthrough in Understanding of Human Immune Response that has Implications for the Treatment of Asthma and other Allergies

Posted on: 03 July 2009

Scientists at Trinity College Dublin have made an important breakthrough in our understanding of a protein within the human immune system which has the potential of impacting on future therapies for allergies and other immune conditions.  The Trinity research group, led by Smurfit Professor of Medical Genetics, Professor Seamus Martin, has just published their findings in the internationally renowned peer-reviewed  Cell Press journal, Immunity.
Professor Martin’s team, along with another Trinity research group led by Dr Ed Lavelle, has made an important breakthrough in understanding the mechanism of action of the protein, IL-33, a protein involved in driving immune responses that are frequently associated with asthma and allergic reactions.

Using an enzyme that can cut proteins very selectively, the  team, funded by Science Foundation Ireland and the Health Research Board, has discovered a way of switching off the activity of the protein IL-33.  IL-33 may be overproduced in certain immune conditions such as allergies and asthma, therefore, a means of inactivating this immune system messenger protein may prove to be beneficial to sufferers of allergies and other chronic immune conditions.

Commenting on the findings, Professor Martin stated: “This discovery sheds new light on how IL-33 operates within the immune system and presents us with a unique way of switching off a molecule that may contribute to hyperactivation of the immune system in individuals that produce excessive amounts of this protein”. 

Professor Martin also added: “We are very grateful for the support of Science Foundation Ireland and the Health Research Board who funded this research.  This work represents an excellent example of how basic research can lead to very practical applications.” 

The work was carried out at TCD’s School of Genetics and Microbiology  and the School of Biochemistry and Immunology by the research teams led by Professor Martin and Dr  Lavelle, including Trinity PhD students Alexander Luthi and Sean Cullen.  The TCD research team is internationally recognised for its work on cell death and immunology.