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Technology Could Be Key to Developing Safer and More Effective Allergy Treatments

Bridget Wilson

Bridget Wilson

A multidisciplinary team of researchers from UNM’s Departments of Pathology, Internal Medicine and Computer Science are collaborating on a new technology that could lead to better and safer treatments for allergies and associated diseases. The team is led by Dr. Bridget Wilson from the Department of Pathology and includes Drs. Diane Lidke and Avanika Mahajan from the Department of Pathology, Dr. Mark Schuyler from the Department of Internal Medicine’s Allergy Clinic, and Dr. Lydia Tapia from the Department of Computer Science.

Using state-of-the art imaging technology and an improved computational process for measuring how allergens crosslink and activate human receptors, the team has produced high resolution imaging techniques showing the structure, migration and redistribution of a specific receptor on the membranes of mast cells and basophils (white blood cells) that have released histamine in reaction to an allergen. This novel way of analyzing allergen structures will enable the team to re-engineer allergens to create versions that can be used as new immunotherapies without causing an allergic reaction when administered.

An allergy is an abnormal reaction of the body to exposure of an allergen, a substance (most often a protein) found in, for instance, pollen, grasses, dust, food, and medications. Allergies and associated diseases are among the most common health problems in the developed world. These conditions include life-threatening asthma and food allergies, as well as allergic rhinitis, atopic dermatitis and severe antibiotic reactions.

The U.S. CenteAllergen Technology Imager for Disease Control estimates that more than 50 million Americans are currently affected by many allergens ranging in severity from mild to acute. The rising incidence and severity of food allergies in children is a particularly troubling phenomenon. Nearly 1 in every 13 children suffers from some form of the allergy. The economic cost of children’s food allergies is nearly $25 billion per year.

Currently, a wealth of information exists on allergen structure but scant information is available on how these structural features trigger receptors on mast cells and basophils. The “threshold” of allergen exposure that translates to life-threatening events is poorly understood. Further research and testing in these areas could be beneficial in discovering new treatment methods that are safer and more effective for treating allergens.

The researchers are designing and testing different combinations of hypoallergens, substances that can produce antibodies but provoke a low or no allergic response. Future plans include preclinical studies to test the recombinant hypoallergens on human basophils isolated from allergic subjects as well as conducting safety profiles in animal models. The team hopes that these new compounds will form the basis of new treatments for patients in allergy clinics worldwide. Additionally, the technology has general application for the study of cell signal transduction in other disease processes.

STC has filed patent applications on these exciting new technologies and is currently examining commercialization options. If you are interested in information about these or other technologies, please contact Arlene Mirabal at amirabal@stc.unm.edu or 505-272-7886.