Researchers unveiled 34 genes that make people susceptible to allergies, creating the opportunity for creating new drugs.
One in ten children suffers from asthma in the UK, while allergies affect about a third of the population.
The study, conducted at Imperial College London researchers over the last 10 years, looked at new ways to examine the genes in the immune system.
Researchers isolated those genes that regulate an antibody involved in starting the allergic response. Immunoglobin E, an already known antibody, had not shown its link to any genes prior to this study.
As a result of this discovery, it is possible to use new drugs that could switch off these genes.
“Our pioneering approach allowed us to obtain insights that we weren’t able to get from traditional genetics,” said Professor William Cookson, from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London. “Our study shows that modifications on top of the DNA that control how genes are read may be even more important.”
People suffering with asthma were involved in the study by having their white blood cells compared for levels of methylation against the amount of antibody in the blood.
The scientists found strong associations between the antibody and low methylation rates in 34 genes.
According to the tests, all 34 genes were most active in people with asthma that had high levels of the antibody.
If the genes can be switched on using drugs, the antibody levels could be reduced and allergies effectively treated.
Dr Samantha Walker, director of research at Asthma UK, said: ‘We welcome this research which explores the genetic relationship between allergies and asthma which could bring us one step closer to developing ground-breaking asthma treatments and finding a cure.’
The findings were published in the journal Nature.