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Immune cell discovery could explain cause of skin allergy

22 April 2013


A trans-Tasman collaboration between researchers at the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research in Wellington and the Centenary Institute in Sydney has resulted in the discovery of a unique type of immune cell in the skin. The significance of which is the compelling evidence that these cells can drive the development of allergic skin disease.

Published online today in one of the world’s most prestigious scientific journals, Nature Immunology, this research forces a revision in our thinking of how allergic diseases arise.

“We have used the most cutting-edge cell analysis and transgenic reporter gene technologies currently available to identify these cells in the skin,” says Professor Graham Le Gros, Director of the Malaghan Institute and one of the lead investigators of the research.

“It is through the expertise of Professor Wolfgang Weninger and colleagues at the Centenary Institute, Australia’s leading dermatology researchers, that we were able to see how these immune cells move through the skin, what they interact with and for how long,” he says. “This has been crucial in allowing us to build up a picture of what these cells are actually doing.”

“Critically, we have been able to show that these cells have the potential to cause skin allergy in experimental models. By being able to link this new cell type to skin allergy there is a greater possibility we can now find ways to stop the onset of allergic disease.”

Prof Le Gros isn’t just talking about skin allergies. Numerous studies have shown that allergic diseases can progress from one form to another throughout a child’s life – a phenomenon termed the ‘allergic march’, which now affects 15-30% of children in Western countries.

Skin allergy or eczema is usually the first sign of allergic disease in young infants and is often associated with an underlying food allergy. These children are then more likely to go on to develop respiratory allergies, such as asthma and hay fever.

“We believe that prevention of allergic disease early in life is critical, to halt progression along the allergic march,” says Prof Le Gros. “Since allergic disease is immune-mediated, the most obvious target for new therapies is the earliest stages of the allergic immune response.”

“These newly discovered skin immune cells might just be the ‘Holy Grail’ we have been searching for. This has been a huge effort, involving scientists from New Zealand, Australia and the USA. It is really motivating to be involved with something so exciting and potentially important.”

Future research will now focus on learning more about these cells and how they could be exploited to stop allergic disease.

This work was supported by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, the Health Research Council of New Zealand, The Dr Marjorie Barclay Trust, the Division of Intramural Research of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (US National Institutes of Health), and the Cancer Institute New South Wales.


For all enquiries please contact:

Prof Graham Le Gros on 04 499 6914 ext 822, or by email [email protected]


Publication details

Roediger B, Kyle R, Ho Yip K, Sumaria N, Guy TV, Kim BS, Mitchell AJ, Tay SS, Jain R, Forbes-Blom E, Chen X, Tong PL, Bolton HA, Artis D, Paul WE, Fazekas de St Groth B, Grimbaldeston MA, Le Gros G, Weninger W (2013) Cutaneous immunosurveillance and regulation of inflammation by group 2 innate lymphoid cells. Nature Immunology (in press).


About the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research

The Malaghan Institute of Medical Research is New Zealand’s leading vaccine and immunology research institute and is based at Victoria University of Wellington’s Kelburn campus. The Institute operates independently and is a charitable trust. Researchers at the Malaghan Institute are focused on developing innovative ways to harness the strength and potency of the immune system, the body’s own natural defence against disease, to treat cancer, asthma and allergy, arthritis, multiple sclerosis and infectious disease.