Allergic asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) are literally breath-taking diseases. These airway diseases are characterized by chronic inflammation, hyperreactivity and remodeling caused by an abnormal reaction to respectively inhaled allergens and cigarette smoke. However, the pathophysiologies of allergic asthma and COPD are very different and are still incompletely understood, precluding therapeutic interventions targeting the root causes of these chronic airway diseases.
In our view, the airway epithelium plays a critical role in the initiation of these airway diseases, since it is the first line of defence against inhaled allergens and cigarette smoke. Moreover, it is not only a physical barrier but also plays a key role in initiating and modulating immune- and inflammatory responses to these substances.
Therefore, one major line of research in our lab is focused on the effects of allergens and cigarette smoke on airway epithelial cells and the consequences for the development of allergic asthma and COPD. Mouse models and human clinical studies are used to translate these in vitro findings to the real life situation.
Although epithelial cells are thought to play a critical role in the initiation of allergic asthma, it is now well established that allergen-specific T-helper type 2 (Th2) lymphocytes orchestrate the occurrence of asthma symptoms during lifetime. Interestingly, healthy persons generate a predominantly regulatory T-cell response to inhaled allergens, preventing allergic disease. Current treatment available for asthma only suppresses the symptoms, but does not cure the disease. Restoring a balanced T-cell response by promoting a regulatory T cell response in asthmatic patients is considered to be the “holy-grail” for curing allergic diseases.
Thus, the second major line of research in our laboratory is the exploration of novel immunotherapeutic strategies aimed to suppress Th2-lymphocyte responses and to increase regulatory T-cells with the ultimate goal to cure allergic asthma. For these studies, mouse models of allergic asthma are used and the findings are translated to human clinical studies.
Our laboratory is part of the Groningen Research Institute for Asthma and COPD (www.griac.nl) in which different basic and clinical disciplines work together in a scientifically stimulating environment to translate research findings from bedside to bench and back.