An End to Allergic Reactions?

Food and drug allergies stopped before they happen

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Allergies to peanuts. Allergies to penicillin. These and other allergies along with asthmatic allergic reactions might be a thing of the past if current research proves successful.

Researchers from the University of Notre Dame are taking a different approach to treating allergies. They are working with a means to inhibit the body's reaction to allergy-causing substances without shutting down the patient's entire immune system.

"Ask your pharmacist about food and drug allergies."

Led by Dr. Basar Bilgicer, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and chemistry and biochemistry, the researchers are focusing on a special molecule they designed, called a heterobivalent ligand (HBL). When this special molecule is introduced into a person's bloodstream, it competes with allergens, such as egg or peanut proteins, in their race to attach to mast cells, a type of white blood cell that causes allergic reactions.

"Unlike most current treatments, this approach prevents allergic reactions from occurring in the first place," says Dr. Bilgicer.

Mast cells are part the human body's defense against parasites, such as tapeworms. When they work normally, mast cells are attracted to, attach to and annihilate invaders. But an allergic reaction occurs when the cells react to nonthreatening substances. An allergic response may range from a mild itch to a life-threatening severe reaction called anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock.

Fellow research Tanyel Kiziltepe notes that certain foods, insect stings and even some medications, including antibiotics, can cause anaphylaxis. "[W]e believe HBL has a very high potential to be developed as a preventative medication."

While many medications treat allergies by weakening a person's entire immune system, this new approach only disrupts the process whereby white blood cells bond with allergens in the first place. "It also does not leave patients open to an increased risk for infections or the development of cancers," explains Dr. Bilgicer. He adds that this special molecule may be most useful when it's not possible to speak to or gauge someone's sensitivity to certain medications or other potential allergens.

"For example, in an emergency, on a battlefield or in a remote location, doctors may not be able to ask a patient about an allergy before administering penicillin. An engineered HBL could be given along with the medicine and perhaps prevent a deadly reaction from occurring."

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 14, 2011
Last Updated:
October 16, 2011