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Research into the correlations between allergies and the development of tumours – and possible benefits for future cancer treatments – has finally become an established research discipline in its own right.
That was the conclusion at the 2nd International AllergoOncology Symposium, which took place in Vienna at the weekend. The symposium’s organiser, Professor Erika Jensen-Jarolim, was extremely happy with the event, which was attended by over 90 doctors and scientists from over 10 different countries.
Although scientists have been aware of the phenomenon for over 50 years, it is only over the last three of these that there has been a dedicated field of research looking into the influence of allergic reactions on the development of tumours. Known as AllergoOncology, this discipline looks at the ways that allergic reactions can inhibit the growth of cancer tumours.
This field of research was founded by Professor Jensen-Jarolim, head of the Department of Pathophysiology at the Medical University of Vienna.
Her work on establishing AllergoOncology as a distinct field of medical research began several years ago as part of a project run by the Austrian Science Fund FWF.
Last weekend’s International AllergoOncology Symposium in Vienna, included a presentation by Professor Chris Parish from the John Curtin School of Medical Research in Australia. He referred to a project during which resistance to certain chemically induced tumours was achieved in a mouse model through the administration of white blood cells, which are also associated with allergies.
“Even if results from animal models cannot be transferred directly to humans, projects like Professor Parish’s still demonstrate the enormous therapeutic potential of AllergoOncology,” comments Professor Jensen-Jarolim.
Another project presented by Dr Manuel Penichet, University of California, which was carried out in cooperation with teams led by Professor Hannah Gould, King’s College, London, and Professor Jensen-Jarolim, sought to combat breast cancer. To do this, the team used a key characteristic of the special antibodies that are jointly responsible for allergic reactions – IgE antibodies. These antibodies have a highly reactive and long-lasting effect against proteins that the body classes as unwanted. This IgE response can also be accurately directed against protein structures in certain tumour cells. This characteristic is being used by the team and can even be enhanced by making specific adjustments to the antibody structure.
However, Professor Jensen-Jarolim also felt that the potential of AllergoOncology should be critically scrutinised during the symposium, and a debate involving a panel of specialists led by the life science journalist Johanna Award-Geissler provided the ideal solution. Professor Jensen-Jarolim explains: “To ensure a field of research survives in the long term, we need to have people who are willing to be critical and we must put in place
consistent checks. That’s why symposium participants were also presented with data from a Viennese study of over 22,000 cancer patients, which had been unable to identify any general link between mortality and the concentration of IgE in serum, except in the case of lymphoma and leukaemia. The reasons behind this will need to be analysed further.”
A review article that was exclusively unveiled in advance at the weekend showed just how much progress has already been made towards making AllergoOncology an established field in international medicine and science.
The article is due to be published officially in the international journal Allergy in a few weeks.