Research Breakthrough in Understanding Alpha-1 by Irish Scientists

The Irish Times, the Irish Examiner, the RTE website, the Evening Herald and several other newspapers have this week (January 13th) reported a new discovery by scientists based at the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland and Beaumont Hospital.  These scientists have discovered how a protein, known as alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT), which is produced by the liver, plays a significant role in reducing inflammation from white blood cells and its overall importance for good health.

Their research findings were published in this month's edition of Science Translational Medicine, a prestigious journal that highlights medical advances resulting from scientific research.

The study revealed for the first time how a lack of Alpha-1 protein leads to increased levels of white blood cell proteins, which in turn cause an autoimmune response that produces harmful oxidants and can lead to the development of the lung disease COPD.

The scientists, including RCSI Professor of Medicine Gerry McElvaney, Dr David Bergin and Dr Emer Reeves from the Respiratory Research Division of RCSI's Department of Medicine, also revealed how a treatment, known as augmentation therapy where Alpha-1 protein purified from blood is given intravenously, can ease the autoimmunity leading to the disease. As a result, Prof McElvaney said the research gives new hope for a better quality of life for sufferers of this chronic condition and may also be applied to other autoimmune associated diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis.

The research was funded by the Medical Research Charities Group/ Health Research Board, the Alpha One Foundation (Ireland) and the Alpha-1 Foundation (USA).