Scientists have recently discovered a fascinating, naturally-occurring protein that could pave the way for improved allergy treatments and certain autoimmune conditions in the future.
Researchers with the Australian National University (ANU) used transgenic mice and cultures of cells taken from human tonsils to find evidence showing how our bodies might defend against the microscopic mistakes that result in conditions involving food allergies, along with asthma and lupus.
The protein, dubbed neuritin, is produced by immune cells and essentially acts as a natural antihistamine.
Immunologist Paula Gonzalez-Figueroa from ANU explained that the team studied over 80 autoimmune diseases, and in many of them, they found antibodies that bind to our own tissues and attack us instead of targeting pathogens (viruses and bacteria).
The promising results were found when the team injected neuritin into the veins of mice who suffered from a lack of follicular regulatory T cells (Tfr), who later appeared to be much healthier following the injections.
There is still a lot to be work, however: the team has admitted that they still do not fully understand the pathway involved in how these immune mechanisms work.
They are also mostly in the dark regarding the effects of neuritin on other cellular processes.
If scientists were to crack these mysteries behind neuritin and its effect on the immune system, it could very well prove to be a gamechanger: as senior author, ANU Professor Carola Vinuesa, explains: 'This could be more than a new drug - it could be a completely new approach to treat allergies and autoimmune diseases.'
Results from this research have since been published in the journal Cell.