allergic reactions

Development of a novel treatment for allergic reactions

The Challenge

Allergic responses play a key role in triggering diseases such as asthma, eczema and irritable bowel syndrome. Mast cells regulate the body’s allergic response by secreting molecules through proteins in their membranes. Mast cells are also known to play a role in cancer tumour growth.

Drugs that inhibit such membrane proteins, known as targeted secretion inhibitors (TSIs), can be used to block these processes and therefore represent a new class of potential therapeutic drugs to help treat mast cell diseases, including allergic reactions and cancer. Understanding how TSIs work is critical in harnessing their potential.

Working with an SME like Syntaxin has been mutually beneficial at many levels. Biological assays we developed help them to better evaluate the effectiveness of their TSIs in target cells, while at the same time working with their TSIs provided us with tools to better understand the basic biology of human mast cells. Moreover, the PhD student working on the project has gained valuable insight involved in drug discovery and development and the contribution and impact that basic academic research can make to that process.

Dr Elizabeth Seward, Department of Biomedical Sciences, The University of Sheffield

The Collaboration

Syntaxin is a private UK life sciences company who develop TSIs. Dr Elizabeth Seward of Sheffield’s Department of Biomedical Science has years of academic experience researching how cells control secretion and the role of proteins in this process.

Syntaxin and Dr Seward obtained a four year Industrial CASE PhD studentship. The student investigated a class of TSI based on botulinum toxin, commonly known as Botox, engineered to target specifically proteins involved in secretion.

The Result

The data generated by this collaborative PhD research shows how human mast cell membrane proteins control secretion of regulatory molecules. New assays can now measure the specificity of binding of botulinum neurotoxins to these proteins.

The assays developed by the PhD student will be adopted by Syntaxin and three scientific papers are in preparation.

As a result of this project, further collaborations between Syntaxin and Sheffield Science academics are in development. To further research in this area the University has established the Centre for Membrane Interactions and Dynamics, which brings together cell biologists, physical scientists, clinicians and computational biologists, with the ultimate aim of developing improved therapies. This strengthens the research capabilities of the University and puts it on the map as a centre of excellence for research into novel therapeutic treatments.

For more information about the Department of Biomedical Sciences or Syntaxin please see and