A team of European researchers has uncovered the mechanism behind an antibody that can potentially inactivate the body's allergic processes. The breakthrough brings researchers one step closer to developing a universal treatment that can prevent the fundamental immune response at the heart of all allergic reactions.

When a person develops an allergic response to a compound the immune system produces a molecule called Immunoglobulin E (IgE). When these IgE molecules bind to receptors on mast cells, histamines are released which result in various common allergic symptoms from hay fever to asthma.

The new study reveals how anti-IgE antibodies can prevent the allergen-induced IgE molecules from binding with the histamine-producing mast cells. Disrupting this process can effectively stop all allergic symptoms from appearing regardless of the volume of IgE molecules that are generated by an external allergen.

"Once the IgE on immune cells can be eliminated, it doesn't matter that the body produces millions of allergen-specific IgE molecules," says Edzard Spillner, from the Department of Engineering at Aarhus University. "When we can remove the trigger, the allergic reaction and symptoms will not occur."

So far, the researchers have only shown the antibody to be effective in ex vivo laboratory models. Cells from patients with birch pollen and insect venom allergies have demonstrated the antibody effectively disrupting the allergic reaction in as little as 15 minutes. The researchers believe this method should be effective in almost all other allergic reactions in human beings.

The antibody is also novel in that it is smaller than other therapeutic antibodies being used for allergic medicines. This means it doesn't need to be administered via injection or infusion, but rather can potentially be inhaled or swallowed.

"It is a so called single domain antibody which easily produced in processes using only microorganisms," says Spillner. "It is also extremely stable, and this provides new opportunities for how the antibody can be administered to patients."

We're still some years away from the antibody being deployed in general medicine, with the researchers still needing to translate these results into human clinical trials. Both the safety and efficacy of the treatment is yet to be demonstrated in human subjects, but the long-term implications of the research look incredibly promising, offering scientists entirely new pathways to develop effective, and potentially universal, allergy treatments.

The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.