New synthetic molecule could destroy allergy attacks in seconds

Allergies are stupid. They're your immune system's way of being dramatic for no reason, and the side effects often induce misery, and sometimes, death. Existing medications can treat the symptoms, but what you really want to do is stop the reaction from triggering in the first place, and a new designer molecule can do that.

To understand why this new molecule, called DARPin E2-79, is being described as the "holy grail of IgE-targeted allergy treatment," stick with us while we explain what IgE is and how allergies work. IgE (or Immunoglobulin E) is a type of antibody that your immune system creates in response to specific types of allergens. If you're allergic to cats, say, you have a bunch of cat-specific IgE running around in your body, and it keeps running around even when you're not around cats, which is why allergic responses can trigger so quickly: thanks to IgE, your immune system is always primed for a freak-out.

The actual mechanism to blame for the part about allergic reactions that make you miserable and/or dead is a combination of this allergy-specific IgE and things called mast cells, which are the cells that release histamines and other nasty chemicals that cause all the symptoms of an allergy attack. IgE binds to mast cells, and when the IgE gets set off by a cat or some pollen or whatever, it in turn sets off the mast cell that it's attached to, and boom, things suck for you.

The "holy grail of IgE-targeted allergy treatment," then, would be finding some way to pry IgE off of mast cells so that the IgE has nothing to trigger, preventing you from experiencing any allergy symptoms at all. Generally, IgE bonds very tightly, but Stanford researchers have discovered that every once, there's a momentary weakness in that bond, and they've engineered a protein inhibitor called DARPin E2-79 that can jump in there and pop the IgE right off in a matter of seconds. In other words, taking DARPin E2-79 won't just block the allergic reaction, it'll cut the reaction off at its source, disassembling the parts of your immune system that cause it in the first place.

DARPin E2-79 is, unfortunately, a big and fancy molecule of the type that's expensive for drug companies to produce. The hope here is that now that a weakness has been identified, other simpler and cheaper molecules might be discovered that can be made available in pill form to do away with allergies forever.

Via Stanford

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