Around 40% of the world’s population is now impacted by allergies and this figure continues to rise. It is now understood that allergies arise from complex interactions between genetic and environmental factors. Exposure to allergens such as dust mites and pollen, as well as air pollutants such as diesel exhaust particulates, can alter the ability of critical genes to be expressed appropriately, a process known as epigenetic modification. The epigenetic modifications induced by allergens and pollutants appears to be reversible, thus providing a mechanism by which allergies can be treated. Budesonide (Rhinocort®) is a corticosteroid nasal spray commonly used to treat allergy symptoms. While the anti-inflammatory and other pharmacological aspects of budesonide are well understood, recent studies have suggested that budesonide may also work by reversing the epigenetic modifications caused by allergen exposure, although this has not been examined in the context of real-world exposures in humans.
The project team from the University of British Columbia and Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. aims to harness the power of epigenetic analysis to determine whether the epigenetic landscape in patients suffering from allergies can be modified by the administration of budesonide. It will fill critical gaps in understanding of epigenetic effects and provide information to examine the connection between environmental impacts and treatment effects. The research will expand the mechanistic understanding of the therapeutic effects of budesonide for relief of nasal rhinitis symptoms and may reveal new mechanisms that could improve treatment of allergies or pollution exposure or serve as a tool for evaluating future therapies. If this venture is successful, it will also serve as a model for studying and optimizing the epigenetic effects of other treatments and other diseases.