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Nanoparticles Designed for Asthma, Allergy Treatments

Air pollution

(Oleg Savitsky, Wikimedia Commons)

19 April 2016. A technique for masking allergy or asthma treatments in biodegradable nanoparticles is shown in lab mice to quickly build a tolerance in the immune system for offending allergens. A medical and engineering team at Northwestern University in Chicago published its findings yesterday, 18 April, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (paid subscription required).

Researchers led by immunologist Stephen Miller are seeking a solution to underlying causes of asthma, a chronic condition where the airways become inflamed and narrow, causing people with asthma to experience wheezing, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, and coughing for periods of time. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in 2010 some 18.7 million adults had asthma, along with 7 million children.

Most asthma treatments relieve symptoms or try to build a tolerance over time for pollen, air pollution, or dust mites that trigger the airway inflammation in asthma. Among people with asthma, normal immune system mechanisms that make it possible to adapt to these allergens do not function. The approach taken by Miller and colleagues from Northwestern and University of Michigan is to quickly develop a tolerance for the allergen that bypasses the immune system, thus avoiding adverse reactions.

The team’s techniques encase proteins similar to the allergens in nanoscale particles made of poly lactic-co-glycolic acid or PLGA, a biocompatible and biodegradable polymer often used in medical devices and for drug delivery. The PLGA coating masks the allergen from the immune system, allowing macrophages — white blood cells in the immune system that ingest foreign matter — to take in the particles without causing a reaction. Miller’s lab assessed this approach previously in preclinical research with treatments for the autoimmune disorders celiac disease and multiple sclerosis, but not for allergies or asthma.

In their paper, the researchers tested the process on lab mice induced with a respiratory allergy to egg proteins like asthma. When the protein was injected into the lungs, the mice created antibodies causing a reaction with inflammation in the lungs similar to asthma. After receiving injections of the nanoparticles, which were well tolerated, the mice no longer reacted to the allergens.

In addition, the team found mice receiving the nanoparticles developed more immune system cells that react normally, rather than adversely, to potential allergens. After the nanoparticle treatments, mice produced more regulatory T-cells, white blood cells in the immune system that respond routinely to possible allergic substances, than Th2 or helper T-cells that generate a strong immune response.

Miller’s lab is testing the techniques to treat other allergies. “It’s a universal treatment,” says Miller in a university statement. “Depending on what allergy you want to eliminate, you can load up the nanoparticle with ragweed pollen or a peanut protein.”

Cour Pharmaceutical Development Co. in Chicago licensed the technology from Northwestern and is developing treatments for allergies, celiac disease, and inflammatory disorders. Miller and co-author Lonnie Shea are scientific advisers to the company.

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