A recent breakthrough regarding a condition that makes food hard to swallow and often become stuck on its way down could result in a treatment in the not-too-distant future. Eosinophilic oesophagus (EoE) – sometimes referred to as ‘leaky oesophagus’ – often shows early in a person’s life.

Affecting as many as 55 out of 100,000 people in Ireland, EoE is considered a rare allergic disease and has typically been considered something that largely affects children. However, it is now routinely encountered in hospitals and general practitioner settings, affecting both children and adults.

Also, recent research shows that EoE is rapidly increasing in incidence and prevalence at a rate beyond what can be attributed to improved clinical recognition.

Now, a team of international researchers led by Dr Joanne Masterson of the Human Health Research Institute at Maynooth University has documented the discovery of a protein – called hypoxia inducible factor (HIF) – which may have an important role in EoE’s development and treatment.

In patients with the allergic disease, this protein is switched off. If this could be switched back on, then it would be an important step in the healing process associated with allergy and so may offer a new approach to treating EoE and other food allergic diseases.

“We still don’t really know how or why this disease occurs,” Masterson said. “There are limited options for treating EoE patients and current clinical trials are focused on targeting inflammation and the immune system directly. Given the continuing increase experienced in the diagnosis of this disease, we are looking at changing the angle at which we are looking for new treatment options.”

Speaking of what preliminary results have returned, Masterson added: “We have already seen success with treatment of research models and with patients’ tissues in the laboratory, by pharmacologically and genetically restoring HIF.

“We have seen the return of proteins important for barrier and tissue repair. Future studies will further investigate the potential functional consequences this may have on diseases such as EoE and other such allergic disorders.”

Colm Gorey

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