JONATHAN Lamb, an internationally renowned immunologist, this week unveiled research he hopes will produce a dust mite vaccine to help asthma, rhinitis and eczema sufferers, writes Olga Wojtas.
Professor Lamb, appointed to the Glaxo Wellcome-British Lung Foundation chair of respiratory science at Edinburgh University, said in his inaugural lecturethat there was a growing understanding of the underlying mechanisms of allergic conditions such as asthma and rhinitis, which affect about 20 per cent of the population.
House dust mites trigger an inappropriate reaction of immune cells in susceptible individuals, leading to potentially serious symptoms of wheezing and shortness of breath, runny nose and sore eyes.
Professor Lamb's research is based on the idea of altering the balance of immune cells that control the body's defence against attack.
One theory is that a reduced exposure to harmful micro-organisms, brought about by improved medicines, coupled with increased exposure to pollutants such as dust mites, has disturbed the natural balance between the two major types of helper T cells.
The hope is to develop a vaccine, based on a genetically modified version of existing treatment such as the BCG vaccine, which will alter the way in which people with the allergy respond to the millions of house dust mites found in carpets, soft furnishings and bedding.
Professor Lamb said: "Lung disease including asthma, chronic bronchitis and emphysema kills almost three million people worldwide each year, representing around 6 per cent of all deaths.
"In Scotland, the percentage is even higher, with lung disease accounting for over 12 per cent of all deaths."