Hay fever shot could halt seasonal allergies

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Researchers have developed a vaccine that prevents the development of hay fever in mice.

The researchers based the vaccine on specific sugar molecules that may increase the effect of treatments and reduce treatment times.

“We believe the current form of vaccination can be optimized. Initially, our goal was to create an artificial production of the proteins on which allergy vaccines are based and to optimize the proteins making them more effective and fast-working,” says senior author Hans Wandall, a professor in the cellular and molecular medicine department at the University of Copenhagen Center for Glycomics.

“We did that using sugar molecules. In the long term our goal is to reduce the treatment time by half, while at the same time lowering the treatment dose,” he says.

There are currently vaccines for some forms of allergy, including hay fever. Treatment usually takes three to five years and involves regular injections. However, the vaccines don’t work for everyone. Some people’s allergies are gone, others experience fewer symptoms, and some experience no effect at all. Another treatment option against grass pollen allergy, for example, is an oral lyophilisate to be taken daily for three years.

The researchers tested the new vaccine, which they administered as injections, on mice and in in vitro tests on human cells. They used birch as the test allergen.

An allergen is a substance that can cause allergy when a person comes into contact with or ingests it. Several of the allergens—causing hay fever, for example—are glycoproteins. The researchers attached sugar molecules to the allergen to try to improve the effect of vaccination.

“In the study we show that sugar molecules can be used to ensure that an allergen reaches the right cells in the immune system and increases the intake of the vaccine, improving the effect hereof. At the same time, the sugar molecules increase the activity of a different group of cells in the immune system, T cells, which help perform the functional part of the process,” says Caroline Benedicte K. Mathiesen, an assistant professor in the cellular and molecular medicine department who also headed the project.

“The next step is to test more types of sugar molecules to increase our portfolio and hopefully identify more sugar structures which can be used to further develop the vaccine platform,” she says.

The researchers are seeking to further develop the vaccine to make it effective enough for use on human allergy patients. The method—optimizing a vaccine using sugar molecules—can potentially also optimize treatments for other diseases. Instead of coupling sugar molecules with allergens, the researchers may simply couple it with different proteins.

“We are uncovering which sugar molecules are useful in connection with vaccines—and not just vaccines for allergy, but vaccines in general. We begin by understanding the role of sugar molecules in the immune system’s reactions to various diseases. For example, our method can potentially also be used within fields such as cancer and autoimmune disorders,” says Wandall.

The research results appear in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

The researchers collaborated with the pharmaceutical company ALK-Abelló on the work.

The former Danish Council for Strategic Research, now a part of Innovation Fund Denmark primarily funded the work. The study also received funding from the Independent Research Fund Denmark, the Danish National Research Foundation, the Carl Emil Friis and Olga Doris Friis’ Scholarship, the Lundbeck Foundation, A.P. Møller and Chastine Mc-Kinney Møller’s Foundation for General Purposes, the Kirsten and Freddy Johansen Foundation, the Mizutani Foundation for Glycoscience, and the Novo Nordisk Foundation.

Source: University of Copenhagen