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"We would like to show the effect of bacteriophages on the immune system"

November 2018 | Interview

Interviewee:  Professor Mübeccel Akdis, head of the Immune dermatology department at the Swiss Institute of Allergy and Asthma Research (SIAF)


Interviewer: Giuseppe De Carlo, Director of Operations and Projects at the European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases (EFA)




This month we had the chance to exchange on the CURE project with Prof Mübeccel Akdis, head of the Immune dermatology department at the Swiss Institute of Allergy and Asthma Research (SIAF), a centre affiliated with the University of Zurich and located in Davos. The CURE project is a research project funded by the EU programme Horizon 2020 to study phage therapy as a way to control the immune dysregulation of asthma and eventually be able to cure it.


What is your main field of research in your institute in Davos?

Our main area of research is the immunology and mechanisms of allergy and asthma. Davos is historically known as a place, where people with tuberculosis were treated because of specific climate condition and altitude, which benefited patients with this condition. When the prevalence of tuberculosis in Europe drastically decreased, people realised that the climate in Davos and in particular the absence of house dust mite and low concentrations of other allergens were also very beneficial to people with asthma and allergy, and for this reason SIAF was founded and located at the top of the mountains in Davos. There we look at the mechanisms of development of allergic diseases and at the assessment of immune tolerance for patients having allergic immune responses to particular antigens.


How is SIAF contributing to the CURE project?

CURE is proposing a phage therapy to control the immune dysregulation of asthma. The role of our research group is to look at functional bacteriophages in the peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC), in both asthmatic patients and healthy subjects, to understand the effect on the stimulation of the cells to particular antigens and the effect of bacteriophages on it. In addition, we are exploring the effects of bacteriophages on the epithelial cells in the nose and the airways and their barrier function.


Do we know already something about the immune responses to different viruses?

We don’t know much about how the bacteriophages influence the immune system and the immune responses. There are a couple of studies that demonstrate that viruses are the major causative agents that induce to asthma exacerbations and, even if there are different type of viruses involved, rhinoviruses in particular. Indeed, clinical studies show that in 80% of the children that have bronchiolitis, rhinoviruses are most of the time identified in the airways and nasal swabs during an asthma exacerbation. 


So what do you expect to see from your research within CURE?

As an immunology research group, we would like to show, particularly the effect of bacteriophages on the immune system. We expect some improvements after treating the patients with bacteriophages. In CURE, there are already studies from other work packages aiming to show that bacteriophage treatment has a beneficial effect on asthma patients, so we would like to demonstrate molecular mechanisms of the effects of bacteriophages.



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