By Wendy Sarubbi | August 31, 2018 4:45 pm

An enzyme that protects the body from infections may be a promising new target to prevent allergic asthma attacks, according to a new study from the UCF College of Medicine.

Dr. Justine Tigno-Aranjuez’s research, supported by the National Institutes of Health, was recently published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology. She and her research team are the first to show that a specific enzyme is activated as part of the body’s allergic reactions to dust mites, one of the most common allergens.

More than 26 million Americans have asthma, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America – and 60 percent of those patients suffer wheezing and shortness of breath because of allergies. Florida is one of the top five states in the nation for asthma. Current treatments – like inhalers – only attack asthma symptoms. They don’t prevent the allergic reaction.

When people who are allergic to dust inhale it, their bodies activate a specific enzyme called the RIP2 kinase that is normally active in the immune system. That enzyme triggers the asthma.

UCF researchers used mouse models where the mice were genetically deficient in the enzyme. When they were exposed to dust mites, they didn’t have allergic asthmatic reactions, such as inflamed airways.

The next step will be to create a treatment that actually blocks the enzyme.  If scientists can develop a therapy that de-activates the RIP2 kinase in patients with allergic asthma, they might be able to prevent the disease.

“Our study suggests that inhibitors for this kinase might be useful to treat allergic or allergic asthmatic disease,” Dr. Tigno-Aranjuez said. “And so that’s definitely something that we’re looking into for the future.” Further research will also help them determine if inhibiting the kinase will introduce any unanticipated side effects.


Dr. Tigno-Aranjuez (far left) with her team of researchers.

Earlier research on RIP2 inhibitors focused primarily on inflammatory bowel disease, and clinical trials in humans began late last year. Dr. Tigno-Aranjuez’s study is one of the first to investigate the enzyme’s role in the body’s response to a typical airborne allergen.

“No one has actually done a thorough study looking at administering RIP2 inhibitors in, say, a chronic model of allergic airway disease and looking to see if it will have a therapeutic effect,” Dr. Tigno-Aranjuez said. “I think it’s definitely worth further study.”

Her original study looked at immune responses over a two-week period. Dr. Tigno-Aranjuez says subsequent research will take place over a longer period to see if deactivating the enzyme is effective for long-term allergic asthma treatments.

“Obviously, asthma is not a two-week course,” she said. “It’s a very chronic type of condition. So we’re planning to use a chronic model of allergic airway disease and then looking to intervene with RIP2 inhibitors at various points.”

Dr. Tigno-Aranjuez has a history of allergies herself, and that helps drive her to discover better ways to treat allergies. “There is still so much that is unknown about the immune response to allergens,” she said. “I’ve just always been curious.”

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