Murdoch study to give new insights on drug hypersensitivity

November 17, 2011

HIV drug Abacavir provides a useful model for examining drug hypersensitivity

A Murdoch University study is examining exactly how and why some people have hypersensitive reactions to drugs while others don’t.

Dr Andrew Lucas from Murdoch’s Institute of Immunology and Infectious Diseases (IIID) is hoping to shed light on the factors that cause hypersensitivity by looking at the interactions between T-cells – immune cells that ‘remember’ different pathogens we encounter throughout our lives – and the HIV drug Abacavir.

“The grand goal of doing this sort of research is trying to understand the different susceptibilities that make a drug cause a bad reaction in a person,” Dr Lucas said.

“At the moment we have  no good clues as to why a drug will cause a reaction in one person, whereas that drug will not cause a reaction in all the rest of the population.

“Ideally, we want to put together a clear picture of all the events that occur in the induction of Abacavir hypersensitivity, and then show that similar things are happening for other known hypersensitivities against other drugs .”

Dr Lucas’s work builds on previous work from the team led by Professor Elizabeth Phillips and Professor Simon Mallal, Director of the IIID, on Abacavir hypersensitivity.

Prof Mallal demonstrated that patients displaying hypersensitivity to Abacavir shared a genetic marker, making it possible to pre-screen patients for susceptibility to hypersensitivity.

However, while all patients displaying hypersensitivity shared the genetic marker, not all patients with the genetic marker shared the hypersensitivity.

Dr Lucas is attempting to shine more light on this puzzle by studying whether previous immunological reactions may play a role.

“I’m looking at what cells are involved in the reaction, trying to understand if maybe there was some previous experience in your immunology that  makes you susceptible to a reaction or not,” Dr Lucas said.

“It might be that the drug is causing a cross-reaction to an immune response to another disease that you've had in your past, for example like a viral infection or something like this.

“This is an exciting area of immunology at the moment, that there's a possibility that your past immunological reactions can influence the development of a new immunological reaction.”

While the technology isn’t there yet, Dr Lucas’s research could have a huge impact on how illnesses are treated in the future.

“Maybe in the future you'll be able to give a blood sample to your doctor and they'll say 'well, we'll just check and see if your blood reacts to any potential medications, we'll screen you and see if your proposed  treatments are safe' – I mean that would be a fantastic outcome.”

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