It is generally understood that allergies can be blamed on an overzealous immune system. Until very recently, doctors could not pinpoint the cells responsible for such reactions; a 2017 report, however, believes it has identified these microscopic culprits.
Picking out the Bad from the Good
Spearheaded by researchers from Virginia Mason’s Benaroya Research Institute, this study has unearthed a method for differentiating between “good” and “bad” immune cells. The approach used by the research team involved molecules called tetramers, which were specifically designed to attach themselves to proteins located on the surfaces of cells. Upon matching up with cellular proteins, the tetramers begin to glow.
The study represented quite an undertaking, requiring blood samples from over 110 subjects. Each extraction of blood was carefully examined for certain traits, among them 200 specific proteins. Approximately two thirds of the participants were allergy sufferers, with the remaining subjects being allergy-free. The study, which appeared in the journal Science Translational Medicine, represented the culmination of years of research. Thanks to these efforts, the authors were able to identify five differences between immune cells that trigger allergy responses and those that work to fight infection.
Stopping Allergies Before they Start?
In light of their findings, the researchers expressed hope their their study could lay the groundwork for the development of tests to gauge allergy risk. Ideally, such tests even be used to diagnose allergy risk among young children. Furthermore, they also contend that doctors could determine the effectiveness of allergy treatments by monitoring “bad” immune cell levels.
As impressive as the study might be, additional research will be needed to confirm its conclusions. In describing his team’s work, senior author Dr. David Robinson noted that “ultimately, we’re interested in fixing allergies and treating people, but you have to understand it first.”