Part of the show How does the Brain Generate Consciousness, Prof. Susan Greenfield
James, telephone, Cambridge asked:
I am being driven mad by hayfever. Help !
Allergies are horrible. They are made worse by the fact that we don't know much about them, how to prevent them from occurring, and how to stop them from recurring. But Brian Sutton and his team from Kings College, London, have made a potentially important discovery this week - about how antibodies called IgE work. Everyone has IgE antibodies, but people with allergies have much higher levels than most. The Y shaped IgE antibodies attach themselves to mast cells in our tissues. When the antibody picks up an allergen, such as pollen, it triggers the Mast cell to release irritants such as histamine, the substance responsible for the unpleasant effects including swollen, itchy, weepy eyes, runny nose and asthma. Now the King's team have found that when the IgE antibody attaches to a mast cell it changes its shape. This shape change seems to lock the antibody in place, making the individual more prone to allergic reactions. Sutton says "if you could design a drug that keeps the antibodies in their bent shape you could stop them binding to mast cells, or even pop them off, stopping allergic symptoms". There is such a drug, called Xolair, which is made by biotech company Genentech and which has shown promising results in clinical trials. But the drug is very expensive and needs to be given by injection so it is not practical as a therapy yet. But the new results from King's are very encouraging and might herald some relief for some of us in summer in future !