How camels may help us improve seasonal allergies

In attempts to develop therapies for seasonal allergies, researchers in Austria are using animals not often associated with scientific research: camels.

There are currently about 800 million people worldwide suffering from seasonal allergies induced by pollen, and though there are several treatment options on the market, seasonal allergy sufferers often struggle to control their symptoms and see their symptoms worsen over time. New treatments are therefore continuously sought, and research into seasonal allergies remains a robust line of investigation.

Camels provide a unique opportunity for allergy treatment because, unlike other animals, who tend to produce antibodies containing what are referred to as two “heavy” and two “light” chains, camels are able to produce single-chained antibodies that are more capable of binding strongly to allergens and thereby preventing their problematic impact on the immune system.

Normally, upon exposure to an allergen like pollen, those who develop allergies will begin to produce antibodies against that allergen. The next time they are exposed to the allergen, those antibodies will bind to the allergen and set off a chain reaction in the immune system that leads to inflammation and allergy symptoms.

If we can produce allergen-specific antibodies that more readily bind allergens like pollen, we can prevent our own antibodies from binding to those allergens and thus prevent the resulting allergy symptoms. This logic is driving the high-performance nanobody technology project taking place in Vienna, where researchers are injecting allergens into camels and obtaining antibodies from their blood.

The hope is that these antibodies will enable us to protect against seasonal allergies through the development of treatments that will be used locally, in the nose or in the eyes. The researchers expect that it will take between 8 and 10 years to develop these therapies, and further investigation will help determine the feasibility and timeline for such treatments.

Author
Dr. Summit Shah

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