The breakthrough could provide a lifeline to the 25 percent of the world's population suffering severe allergic responses to pollen.
Working with a rye grass protein - one of the most potent environmental allergens known - the team, from the University of Melbourne's Plant Molecular Biology and Biotechnology Group, has modified the gene responsible for its production.
The modified gene produced a protein that has a significantly reduced allergenic response, yet one still capable of boosting a person's immune response. These twin features are the key to a potential vaccine, or effective immunotherapy - the practice of giving allergic patients small, but increasing doses of allergen-containing extracts to boost their immunity to the allergen.
"Skin prick tests to assess the protein's safety suggest it is a significantly safer and more effective alternative to the current immunotherapy used to treat grass pollen allergies," says Associate Professor Prem Bhalla, joint leader of the group.
Their research is published in the latest European Journal of Immunology.
Current immunotherapy carries a significant risk of lethal side effects that include anaphylactic shock, a condition where the body rapidly becomes hypersensitive to an allergen.
"The symptoms of allergenic disease, like asthma, hayfever, allergic dermatitis and conjunctivitis, can be controlled with drugs, but specific immunotherapy is the only way to treat the causes of allergies that produce a potentially life threatening hypersensitivity (Type 1 allergies), says Bhalla.
Since its introduction in 1911, immunotherapy therapy has been subject to criticism and debate largely because the underlying immunological mechanisms of the human body are still unknown and because there has been no way of controlling the contents of the allergen-containing
Contact: Jason Major
University of Melbourne