- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 20, 2000

A Northwestern University biochemist has achieved a breakthrough needed for the eventual creation of drugs that prevent allergic reactions.

Currently there is no completely effective way to block reactions to allergens meaning any of the vast array of substances that cause more than 50 million Americans to sneeze, itch, experience congestion, have trouble breathing and, in some instances, to die from shock.

The many prescription and nonprescription allergy drugs being marketed typically help victims cope only with the symptoms of their particular allergies and asthma. Currently the only sure way for sufferers to prevent allergic reactions is to avoid the particular allergens that plague them. That's clearly difficult when the allergens are grass, trees, dust or any of the substances released into the air by automobiles and appliances.

Working at computers and at a government-owned atom smasher, which allows researchers to study exquisitely small subatomic particles of matter, Theodore S. Jardetzky has provided images of molecules interacting.

The molecules he depicted are located in the part of the immune system where allergens prod the body's defense mechanism to produce antibodies, the special proteins the body summons to roust dangerous foreign substances. It's there that the immune system of persons with allergies goes awry.

The malfunctioning immune system mistakes harmless and sometimes needed substances such as food as dangerous. The antibodies then initiate the release of powerful substances called histamines to quell the substances invading the blood stream. Those histamines create the debilitating symptoms allergic persons experience.

"I have been waiting for this moment for 15 years," says Mr. Jardetzky's collaborator, Dr. Jean-Pierre Kinet. Dr. Kinet is a Harvard Medical School pathologist and head of the Laboratory of Allergy and Immunology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

He says Mr. Jardetzky's work makes finding "a viable new drug a definite possibility."

"This is a really nifty piece of science and I'm pleased about it," says Dr. Michael Kaliner, a local allergist and member of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation.

But he quickly adds, "Will this piece of science directly lead to a therapeutic breakthrough? Possibly. But way down the road. We're not at the point where we can create boutique molecules."

Still, says Mr. Jardetzky, "This is the first time we've seen the molecules that interact and that form the basis of allergic response. Now chemists can see the structure of the substances, and they will be able to find inhibitor molecules that will attach to the antibody and keep it from acting. It will be like preventing a key from fitting into a lock."

Mr. Jardetzky agrees that creating a new allergy therapy "is another big step." But he insists "we now have the possibility of creating preventive reactions to all allergens very broad scope drug treatment."

Referring to certain recent and innovative allergy therapies, he says they demonstrate the feasibility of creating new broad-spectrum preventives, because, "The proof of the principle is already there."

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