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The University of Southampton

Preparing society for the rise in allergic disease

Published: 25 April 2018
Preparing for the rise in allergic diseases

As a World Allergy Organization Centre of Excellence, the University of Southampton’s research and teaching is helping prepare society to meet the global challenge of the rise in the number of people suffering from allergic diseases.

One fifth of the world’s population is now affected by allergy, and the complexity and severity of their conditions is increasing. At Southampton, our researchers are at the forefront of developments in preventing and treating allergies, while our postgraduate programmes enable healthcare professionals to gain a greater understanding of allergic diseases and how to provide better treatment for adult and paediatric patients by translating their knowledge into everyday practice.

This year’s World Allergy Week (22-28 April) is focusing on atopic dermatitis/eczema, an area that Southampton researchers are already exploring as part of a project to develop a treatment strategy for long-lasting tolerance to allergens.

The Inducing Tolerance in Allergy (ITA) project is led by Medicine’s Dr Marta Polak, a Sir Henry Dale Wellcome Trust Research Fellow. The team includes laboratory, clinical and computer scientists, doctors and nurses.

The project is investigating how the function of human skin residing immune cells is altered in allergic disease, and whether we can use them to induce long-lasting tolerance to allergens.

Marta said: “Skin is the largest body organ, and a major site for allergic disease, such as atopic dermatitis. We and other researchers have demonstrated, that skin contact with allergens can induce and worsen allergic responses.

“In contrast, it has also been shown, that skin can be successfully used as a gateway for therapeutic interventions, aimed at improving the body's immune defenses. Such interventions on the skin would create an attractive strategy in allergy treatment and prevention, but we need to understand better the way in which the immune responses are regulated in human skin.”

The team aims to investigate how the skin of eczema patients and healthy people reacts to allergens and how these allergic responses can be changed into immune tolerance, by dissecting the way allergen handling is altered in atopic skin, and what can be done to bring it back to healthy.

Southampton academics are also helping bring health professionals around the world up to date with current best practice through their MSc Allergy programme and enabling them to share their knowledge with colleagues and patients.

The University’s postgraduate allergy provision is multidisciplinary and available as a masters degree, PG diploma, PG certificate, or as single modules, making it suitable for GPs, hospital-based doctors, nurses, dietitians and scientists.

Led by National Teaching Fellow, Dr Judith Holloway, the programme has produced a number of alumni who now hold prestigious positions around the globe.

Judith said: “Immunology isn’t easy to understand and being able to teach a difficult subject in a way that our students can actually use it for the benefit of their allergy patients is incredibly important. More than that, our MSc also gives our students the skills to pass on their knowledge to their colleagues and carry out their own research, allowing our alumni to become the next generation of allergy leaders.”

For further details on the ITA project visit

For further details on the MSc Allergy visit


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