Thursday, September 28, 2006

Hope For The Profoundly Allergic

Oh boy, if this works I will be a happy Kat. This is one of those rare blog posts that doesn't just interest me, but in a lot of ways is about me. Sorry, but occasionally it must be done. As I'm not the only one it concerns, however, I'll not refrain from saying, "read on," especially if you know anyone who struggles with severe allergies. Andy Coghlan, at, has just given me my hope spark for the day. He's written an article about a new method to trick the human immune system into thinking it's being attacked by a more serious threat, diverting it from other perceived dangers, leading to a long-term relief of allergies. That is music to my allergy-ridden ears...nose...throat, and every other part of my body saddled with an immune system that thinks every smell not emanating from food is something equivalent to an invading army, something to be attacked with the ferocity of the Picts repelling the Romans. In my world, going out among people, all of whom carry about fifty different offending odors of the perfume variety around with them on any given day, carries with it the promise of migraines and fevers, and various and sundry other ills. Wouldn't it be great if something could actually convince my (and anyone else's) very confused body that it shouldn't waste its effort on loud complaints that there are flowers nearby, or that somebody is smoking in Argentina, but should focus its energy on more serious, but illusionary, enemies?

Here's what Coghlan had to say:

Allergies could be wiped out in a single blow by tricking the immune system into thinking it is encountering an old foe. The idea is based on the so-called "hygiene hypothesis", the notion that the cleanliness of modern life deprives the immune system of a proper training against disease so that it ends up out of kilter and reacts to things that are harmless, such as grass pollen.

Cytos Biotechnology of Zurich, Switzerland, has developed a drug that it calls CYT003-QbG10, which fools the body into thinking it is being attacked by mycobacteria. This class of bacteria is encountered far less today because of modern cleanliness. The bogus attack tricks the immune system into changing tactics to focus on tackling the potentially larger threat, rather than producing allergic reactions to less harmful things.

Apparently, in the very limited trials performed to date, this little injection is showing results that sound miraculous, at least to me, and I'm not easy to impress when it comes to this topic. I have been jaded by far too many unmet promises of relief over the years to get particularly enthusiastic about new assurances of a breakthrough:

Preliminary results from a trial of 10 people with hay fever suggest that after a six-week course of injections, their sensitivity to grass pollen was reduced a hundredfold, eliminating their symptoms. Cytos claims the patients remained symptom-free up to eight months after the therapy, though it could not say whether the relief would be permanent.

Eight months are good. Heck, eight days are good. People given the drug for dust mites were still symptom-free a year later. Sign me up for the next trial.

I recognize that there are a lot of people who will say that it is better to treat the root physical cause of the allergies than the symptoms, and I agree for the most part. I've been working for a long time on the underlying health causes that keep my systems so out of whack. However, I bet the same people who want to focus on the root cause would be a little more inclined to grab at the chance to trick their bodies into behaving in a more civilised fashion if they were paying for every third trip to the grocery store with a migraine, wouldn't you?

Anyway, if the theory this treatment is based on is sound, the problem isn't fixable by a better diet, and proper exercise, or the right combination of herbs and yoga. According to this theory, it basically comes down to the immune system not getting enough exercise in our modern, sanitary world. The system doesn't mature properly, to tell the good from the bad, specifically because so much of the bad has been removed from our environments. It gets confused by this lack of legitimate targets, and starts attacking non-threats. So, the idea of the treatment is to give the immune system some exercise, sort of put it on a false alarm treadmill. By introducing a DNA strand that mimics a previously common and threatening mycobacteria, but is itself harmless, the body can be convinced that it needs to work very hard at addresses the DNA threat, thus fooling it into ignoring the formerly all-important menaces of pollen, dander, Windex, shoe polish, paint, Channel #5, and my personal nemesis, dryer sheets. I could continue the list indefinitely, but by now you get my point.

I hope, I hope, I hope, not just for my sake, but for everyone who suffers from the same problems, that this treatment goes somewhere, and isn't one of those flash-in-the-pan ideas that holds more promise than results. I know at least a half a dozen people who find allergies making more than a little crimp in their lifestyles, so I'm sure the market is there for any kind of wonder drug they can prove is effective and won't cause irreparable damage to more than one or two vital organs. I hope that the new treatment, if and when it becomes available, doesn't come with all those warnings that you see on pharmaceutical advertisements: "Use of this product may cause some small and insignificant side effects, such as: runny nose, cough, fever, limping, excessive nasal hair growth, baldness, blindness, Tourette's Syndrome, death, and, on rare occasions, bed-wetting, so call your doctor for a free sample today!!!" I don't really mean to disparage the pharmaceutical industry; they are, after all, my hope for a brighter tomorrow. I'm just glad they're making progress. Maybe someday my husband won't have to do all the shopping.