Interfering Interferon

Word on Health heard some news this week that might just help asthma patients breathe easier.

Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have found that interferon, a drug used to treat a variety of cancers such as leukemia and melanoma as well as multiple sclerosis and hepatitis; can block the development of certain immune cells known to cause asthma.

Known as T-helper 2 cells, under normal circumstances, they help protect against infections by releasing chemicals that induce inflammation. However in some people, these cells can promote allergic responses to normally harmless substances, including animal dander, pollens, and pollutants. Once Th2 cells become reactive to these substances, they promote all of the inflammatory processes common to allergic diseases like asthma and eczema.

The results which have just been published in the Journal of Immunology, suggest that interferon might be a viable, therapy for the treatment of asthma.

Dr. J. David Farrar (right) and research assistant Jonathan Huber

This finding is incredibly important, because humans are being treated with interferon for a variety of diseases, yet no one has tried treating asthma patients with interferon,” said J. David Farrar, PhD, Assistant Professor of Immunology and Molecular Biology at UT Southwestern and lead author of the study. “The current therapies for asthma are inhalers and steroids, both of which offer only temporary relief.”

In the current study, the researchers showed that interferon blocks the development of developing Th2 cells by targeting the very transcription factor that regulates their development and stability in the first place.

According to Farrar, “If you can stop a Th2 cell from ever developing, and if you can take a Th2 cell that has already become one and stop it from secreting these asthma-causing chemicals, then that’s really the ‘Holy Grail’ of treating asthma.”

Could this be an end to inhalers?  Only time and clinical trials will tell.