If you have been diagnosed with an allergy, the only way to avoid a reaction is to avoid contact with the allergen. While there are medications to treat the allergic symptoms, this does not get to the root of the problem, caused by an immune system response to the allergen.

Now, a Finnish research team has announced inForbesthat they may have developed the world’s first allergy vaccine, which could prevent people from developing a wide range of allergies.

How it works

To understand how the vaccine works, first it is important to understand the way allergies function. In people with allergies, the immune system reacts with immunoglobulin E (or IgE) when an allergen is detected. The IgE molecule triggers a process causing histamine to be released from white blood cells. This, in turn, results in an inflammatory response with symptoms such as watery eyes and a runny nose.

Scientists at the University of Eastern Finland studied IgE, which plays a significant role in allergies. They discovered unique IgE-binding structures in allergens which, they say, can be genetically modified so that they cannot bind with IgE. They hypothesize that the modified allergens, produced using biotechnology, would then cause patients to develop a natural immunity against the allergen. So, for example, introduction of a modified peanut protein could give patients immunity against developing a peanut allergy.

Professor Juhu Rouvinen, head of the research team, explains that the allergy vaccine works in a similar manner to vaccinations against infectious diseases:

“We believe that curing allergies is about changing or modifying the genetic structure of the allergen molecules inside of your body, so we want to eliminate the cause of the allergy, instead of removing symptoms.”

The research team has founded a new bio-tech company known as Desentum, and hopes to market the vaccine within a decade.

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