Asthma can be a debilitating, dangerous condition, and it's most often caused by allergies. While medication is able to provide some relief, scientists from the Medical University of Vienna have devised a treatment that could help the severely-asthmatic even more. It involves using a dialysis-like setup to filter antibodies out of their blood.

When allergies cause asthma, what's happened is that the immune system has responded to the presence of substances such as plant pollen by forming immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies in the bloodstream. These bind to inflammatory cells in the mucous membranes and other places, resulting in symptoms such as wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath.

That's where the team's new IgEnio column comes in.

It's a device that's filled with beads made from sepharose (a polymer extracted from seaweed) that carry igE-binding proteins. As the patient's blood is pumped through the column, the majority of the IgE antibodies are trapped by those proteins, while the rest of the blood simply goes back into the patient's body.

In clinical trials, the column has been found to remove about 80 percent of the IgE antibodies from test subjects' bloodstreams, bringing about "a significant improvement in the quality of life for sufferers during the pollen season." More antibodies are formed as long as the pollen (or other irritant) is present, however, so repeated treatments are necessary – the test subjects are getting them once a week. That said, there are indications that fewer IgE antibodies are formed as more treatments are administered over time.

Led by Rudolf Valenta and Christian Lupinek, the scientists have suggested that for the best results, IgEnio treatment should be administered along with the standard asthma drug omalizumab.