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Natural Killer cells could play a key role in asthma

Research carried out at Imperial College London and published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that Natural Killer cells, which are best known for eliminating cancer cells and cells infected by viruses, might be partly to blame for inflammation in the airways of people with asthma.

Scientists funded by Asthma UK have discovered that Natural Killer cells in the immune system could play a key role in asthma. 

Research carried out at Imperial College London and published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that Natural Killer cells, which are best known for eliminating cancer cells and cells infected by viruses, might be partly to blame for inflammation in the airways of people with asthma.

The study, funded by the MRC-Asthma UK Centre for Allergic Mechanisms in Asthma, the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust, involved exposing mice to house-dust mite allergens, a common trigger for many people with asthma. Mice lacking a protein that switches on the Natural Killer immune system cells didn’t suffer from asthma-like symptoms, but asthma-like reactions did occur in normal mice. 

Dr Samantha Walker, Executive Director of Research and Policy at Asthma UK, says: "Millions of people in the UK live with asthma every day, but for a substantial minority of people their symptoms are not relieved by current treatments.

"It is an exciting discovery that Natural Killer cells might be an important key player in asthma. We have known for some time that they play an active part in fighting virus-infected cells, but this research reveals for the first time that they could also be linked to allergic asthma.

"We would like to see further investigation in this area which may lead to new approaches to asthma treatments, which could help the quarter of a million people who get little relief from current medicines." 

There are 5.4 million people with asthma in the UK, yet the causes of the condition are poorly understood. Asthma can be serious, and on average three people a day die from an asthma attack. 90 per cent of asthma deaths are thought to be preventable, but around 1 in 20 people are unable to get good control of their condition despite using high levels of asthma medicines. Research into the mechanisms of asthma is vital to develop much needed new treatments.

Asthma UK has spent over £50 million on scientific research into asthma, and more funds are needed to grow this research programme. Freedom from asthma will only be possible through the creation of new treatments that rid people of asthma's effects.

REFERENCES

N. Farhadi et al. ‘NK cell NKG2D and granzyme B are critical for allergic pulmonary inflammation.’ Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 28 November 2013. 

 

(Original article)

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