Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas say interferon -- an immune-system protein used to treat multiple sclerosis, hepatitis C and a number of cancers -- may help asthma patients breathe easier.
The study, published in the Journal of Immunology, finds interferon blocks the development of immune T lymphocytes cells known as T helper 2 cells, which help protect against infection but in some individuals also promote allergic responses to substances such as animal dander and pollens. Once these cells become reactive they promote all of the inflammatory processes common to an allergic disease like asthma.
"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," Dr. J. David Farrar, the study senior author, said in a statement. "The current therapies for asthma are inhalers and steroids, both of which offer only temporary relief."
Farrar and colleagues determined in isolated human cells that interferon blocks the development of the T helper 2 cells by interfering with a transcription factor.
"By targeting this transcription factor, we've turned off the key component that regulates the entire process," Farrar said.