There are varying degrees of severity of the allergic epidemic. One is sort of a simple avoid foods all the need to people getting life-threatening allergic attacks and die because they can't breathe, or they have systemic anaphylaxis, where they undergo shock and die that way. And so this is a serious issue, not only because of the varying degrees of severity, but also the number of people that are involved, the cost to society.
My laboratory studies the development of allergies and asthma. This is a disease that is actually reaching epidemic proportions in developing countries. As countries take on westernized diets and environments, we see an increase in kids and adults getting these types of diseases. Now allergies and asthma are an overreaction of the immune response to exposure to certain agents. And we don't understand why, and that's why we're trying to study this.
Of course, to understand this, we would like to be able to study humans. But there are many things that we obviously can't do with humans. And so that leads us to developing animal models, such as the mouse that I'm holding here. And we can genetically manipulate it to remove or add back certain components of the immune system and then ask the question, do we still get the disease? Do we still get asthma? Do we still get allergies?
There's an enzyme that we've been studying. And when we target this enzyme, what we can find is that these mice no longer develop the disease. So what that suggests to us is that if we can develop drugs that would target that particular enzyme, then we could potentially use those drugs in humans. That's something that I would be really excited if that happens.
I was recruited to Cornell to become a chair of the Department of microbiology and immunology. The vet school is the number one vet school in the country. And there's some outstanding people here. And so having the opportunity to be here at Cornell and work with these people was really very attractive.
I think being in the vet school allows us to really take full advantage of that broader range of species that we have that may develop similar diseases to what we're trying to understand. The excitement, for me, in being a researcher, a scientist, is this discovery of something new, this idea that this is being seen for the first time. Nobody else has seen this in the world. And then, thinking about that discovery, how can we use this in a way that's useful in treating disease? And that's the really exciting part about what would I do.
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Conducting research on diseases common in humans and animals alike allows Cornell immunologist Avery August to make discoveries otherwise impossible. Mice, for example, no longer develop asthma when a particular enzyme is targeted. This novel research begs the question: can scientists create new medicines that are similarly effective in humans?
Avery is professor and chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in the College of Veterinary Medicine.