Could Cats Show the Way to an Allergy Cure?

As reported in the April issue of Nature Medicine, scientists at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) have developed a technique that could block cat allergies and which they hope will one day lead to a cure.

Dr Andrew Saxon of UCLA injected mice which had been genetically engineered to be allergic to cats, with a part cat, part human protein and within a month the mice were cured of the allergy. Dr Saxon believes the technique can also be developed to provide a cure for deadly food allergies such as peanut allergy.

Allergy is an over-reaction of the immune system to proteins that should normally pose no problems. Much modern allergy treatment relies on giving patients small doses of the allergen over an extended period of time with the intention of training the immune system to recognise the allergen. ‘The problem is that it’s like giving a small dose of poison,’ says Dr Saxon.

His technique uses a genetically engineered protein to train the immune system. The cat part of the protein causes the immune system to produce an IgE allergic reaction, while the human part calms the reaction and in the process re-trains the immune system.

Dr Saxon believes that this technique could safely cure people of allergies in around a month, in contrast to present techniques which can take up to five years and are by no means universally successful.

Dr Saxon now wants to move on from airborne allergens to food allergies for which there are currently no cures available. Food allergies, particularly anaphylactic reactions, are dangerous because of the amount of allergen that you eat in comparison to what you breathe in.

So far, fusing human and peanut proteins has proved difficult but Dr Saxon is confident that the problems can be solved, although a mass market treatment is still some way off.

Nature Medicine, April 05 doi:10.1038/nm0405-381

First published in July 2005

Click here for more research reports on allergies to animals



Top of page