According to the Asahi Shimbun, Japanese scientists have developed a special medicine for pregnant women that could give their newborns lifelong immunity to hay fever, food allergies, asthma, atopic dermatitis and other conditions.
The new technology, created by a team of researchers mainly from the Tokyo-based National Center for Child Health and Development (NCCHD), has proved effective in mice.
The team said it plans to test the medicine on pregnant mothers with allergic conditions.
“We want to confirm the safety of the technology in humans and make it clinically available in a few years,” said Hideaki Morita, head of the NCCHD’s allergy research section.
Allergic symptoms are caused when immunoglobulin E (IgE), an antibody, attaches itself to pollen, food, ticks and other allergens.
Whether one’s body produces a large amount of IgE and becomes sensitized to allergies is determined within three months after birth.
The team studied the membrane-bound IgE-positive B cell (mIgE+ B cell), which appears only in fetuses and infants and generates IgE. They found that the binding of allergens and IgE on the surface of the mIgE+ B cell results in the generation of a large volume of IgE.
The researchers then used an artificially created antibody that is already used as medicine to alleviate allergic symptoms.
When this antibody is attached to IgE, it “urges” the mIgE+ B cell to kill itself, thus preventing the production of IgE throughout a patient’s life.
The function of IgE is to protect humans from parasites and other substances, but it does not play an important role in modern societies where people lead hygienic lives.
The team injected the special antibody into pregnant mice and found almost no increase in the production of IgE in the mouse fetuses.
The antibody was likely sent from the mothers through the umbilical cord to the offspring, killing the mIgE+ B cells, according to the scientists.
The anti-allergy effect continued even after the babies became adults, preventing them from becoming sensitized to allergies. The researchers also confirmed the antibody caused no adverse effects.
Fifty percent of Japanese suffer from some sort of allergic condition, but most conventional treatments are simply aimed at suppressing the symptoms.
The new method is expected to help reduce the risk of developing allergies for a lifetime.
IgE was discovered by Kimishige Ishizaka, a globally renowned immunologist who died in July this year, and his wife, Teruko, in 1966, and is currently used for allergy tests and other purposes.
Ishizaka, in fact, proposed the idea of administering anti-IgE antibody to babies, and the research has been conducted primarily by the NCCHD.
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