In an effort to advance relief for allergy sufferers, researchers at the Medical University of Vienna have set themselves the task of immunizing camels with pollen allergens in order to obtain heavy single-chain antibodies for the passive treatment of pollen allergies.

“Camels have a rare capacity for producing antibodies consisting of only one chain,” explains Sabine Flicker, PhD, head of the antibody working group at the university’s institute of pathophysiology and allergy research. “The isolated single-chain antibodies are tested for their efficacy in preventing specific immunoglobulin E antibodies (IgE) from binding to allergens, thereby suppressing the triggering of a pollen allergy.”

An allergic reaction normally involves allergens coming into contact with the IgE antibodies produced as a result of sensitization. Such antibodies are ‘arm-specific’ cells, typified primarily by mast cells. When the same allergens are encountered a second time, they bind to cell-bound IgE antibodies, thus activating the mast cells. In turn, the antibodies release messenger substances that are responsible for allergic inflammation and other symptoms, causing the formation of an allergy.

In a new joint project approved by the Austrian Science Fund and the Russian Foundation for Basic Research, Vienna researchers led by Flicker will be working with Sergei Tillib, PhD, from the Russian Academy of Sciences. The project will involve injecting allergens into camels to immunize them. A high-performance technology, nanobody technology, will then be used to obtain allergen-specific single-chain antibodies from the blood of the immunized camels—the first time that this advanced technique will be used to produce allergen-specific antibodies. The researchers hope that the process can be used to generate a large number of specific single-chain antibodies.

“Nanobody technology therefore represents a significant improvement over the methods previously used for obtaining recombinant monoclonal antibodies,” notes Flicker. “We are able to manufacture the single-chain antibodies as recombinant proteins in the laboratory and test them for their protective potential. Those single-chain antibodies that prevent IgE from binding to allergens act as a stop sign to the allergy.”

According to the scientists, the new findings could lead to local treatments such as nasal sprays or eye drops to combat seasonal pollen allergies in as little as 8 to 10 years.

For further information, visit Medical University of Vienna.

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