Millions of people around the world suffer from asthma and other allergic reactions, yet there's still no known cure. When medications hardly work, the next best step is allergy shots to be administered over a period of years, hopefully desensitizing the patient from the allergen. But a research team has discovered something that may be helpful in creating a vaccine, and it's found in the farms.
A team of researchers from VIB (Flanders Institute of Biology) in Belgium and Ghent University have made a huge leap in understanding asthma: they discovered that a certain protein can protect the respiratory tract from developing allergic reactions. However, this protein is activated when people get to inhale farm dust.
In a press release by VIB, the study is based on results of other researches that suggested children who grew up in farms are less likely to develop asthma. Further, those who drank raw cow's milk tend to be more immune to allergies. What experts didn't know at the time is the cause for such non-reaction and immunity.
Thus, they hypothesized farm dust may hold the key. They initially tested this assumption on mice. Exposing the lab mice to the dust, the team discovered that the animals soon developed immunity against dust mites, which are some of the well-known triggers of human allergies.
This is because farm dust activates the release of a protein called A20. This protein controls the mucus response of the respiratory tract, particularly when it encounters the allergen.
They then broaden their study to include patients, wherein they learned that those with severe allergies and asthma had protein A20 deficiency.
Growing up in farms doesn't mean children will no longer develop asthma. Among the 2,000 kids they tested, some do, and the allergies can be quite severe. But the main cause is a gene variant, which causes the protein to function incorrectly.
The team is currently working on identifying the specific component in farm dust that triggers the protein. Once they know, a vaccine may not be too far behind.