Saturday July 4, 2020



June 19

Future Allergies

Finnish Scientists Discover Vaccine To Eliminate Allergies

 Let’s start with some numbers. In the United States, 65 million people have some type of allergy. In Europe, that number goes up to 87 million. Fifty six percent are allergic to grasses in the US versus 52% in Europe. Cat allergies are 39% in the US and 30% in Europe and food allergies are 10% in the US and 11 % in Europe.

The prevalence of allergic diseases global and growing. Recent trends indicate that half of all Europeans will suffer from allergy by 2015. Today, allergy treatment, which only suppresses the symptoms or lessens the inflammation, is via drugs, anti-histamines or steroids. And that market is big business. The anti-allergy drug market is anticipated to exceed $14.7 billion  by 2015 in the US alone. Worldwide allergy vaccine sales were $642 million in 2010.

To keep it simple, an allergy works like this: An allergen molecule reacts with an immunoglobulin E (IgE) which is an antibody in our body that plays a starring role in allergies, i.e., having them or not having them.  That molecule triggers a cellular process known as degranulation which encourages histamine to be released from your white blood cells, known as mast cells. Histamine, which is an inflammatory response, causes allergic symptoms like hay fever, watery eyes, scratchy throat, runny nose. Just suppressing allergic symptoms doesn’t get to the root of the problem.

Scientists at the University of Eastern Finland led by Professor Juhu Rouvinen, in cooperation with Professors Kristiina Takkinen and Hans Söderlun from VTT, a technical research center in Finland, discovered unique IgE‐binding structures in allergens. They say these structures can be genetically modified so they do not bind IgE anymore, but they can still induce the production of the immunoglobulin G (IgG).  IgG protects you from allergic symptoms by actually prohibiting the formation of IgE-allergen complexes and could, in theory, prevent the degranulation and histamine release from white blood cells. The modified allergens are produced using modern molecular biology and biotechnology.

Patients will hypothetically develop a natural immunity against each allergy they have been vaccinated for in the same manner immunity is created against infectious diseases with vaccinations.

Histamines are not the solution because they only inhibit or lesson the allergy so you still have the allergy,” said Rouvinen. “We believe that curing allergies is about changing or modifying the genetic structure of the allergen molecules inside of your body, so we want to eliminate the cause of the allergy, instead of removing symptoms.” 

Much like Louis Pasteur, through experiments, human error and learning as you go, discovered a vaccine that saved millions, Rouvinen and his team say they discovered this vaccine through brilliant science and hard work. In other words, they aren’t sure, but just like all good scientists committed to finding a cure for a disease, they found a way.

The team, through the formation of a new bio-tech company called Desentum, hope to have the vaccine on the market within five to seven years.


June 15

Climate Change

Watery eyes, runny noses and puffy faces will abound this year as a warm winter, human development and climate change converge to create a brutal allergy season that will likely get worse for years to come, according to experts.

Plants like ragweed are in pollen overdrive from very favorable weather, while stinging insects like yellow jackets and hornets are findings new homes farther north. More people are becoming susceptible to allergiesover time as pollen seasons are getting longer.

This increases risks for people who are already sensitized and threatens those with respiratory problems. The spread of allergies can have tremendous economic consequences as patients with reactions fill clinics and emergency rooms and as afflicted workers stay home.

Allergy symptoms result from the body's immune system overreacting to a given substance, known as an allergen. The symptoms range from mild, such as itchy eyes and hives, to life-threatening when airways swell shut. These conditions already afflict 60 million people in the United States, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, and annually cost $21 billion.

Though most allergies can be controlled and treated, public health officials have found that an increasing number of people are adversely reacting to pollen, dander, dust and insects. As the climate shifts, these allergens are expanding to new areas, and previously unexposed people are now reaching for antihistamines.

Ragweed is one of the most common allergen sources and has spread in part due to human activity. "There is a growing body of science showing warming temperatures and carbon dioxide levels cause increases in pollen from ragweed," said Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, a public health scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. The plant's pollen is most dangerous from when it flowers in midsummer until when it's killed by the first frost in the fall.

Other pollen sources, like trees, peak in the spring, while grass pollen peaks in the early summer. Warming temperatures have lengthened the risk period for these plants up to several weeks. "It means more misery for allergy sufferers because you're looking at a longer time for exposure to pollen," Rotkin-Ellman said. "All of these factors combine to create a really terrible allergy season."

A rising atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration is also important because it nourishes plants, and fast-growing pollen producers like ragweed are often the quickest to avail themselves of its increasing abundance.

The growing potency of weeds and mold
"When we look at weeds that are associated with pollen, those changes are having a disproportionate effect on their ability to grow and their ability to produce pollen," said Lewis Ziska, a plant physiologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service. He noted that, geographically, these patterns change with latitude, with northern areas of the country showing the most drastic increases in environmental allergens.

Already, parts of the country have broken allergy records. In New Jersey, officials observed the highest pollen levels ever recorded in February this year. "I've never seen that in 25 years of my work in this area," said Leonard Bielory, an attending physician and allergist at the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and a professor at Rutgers University's Center for Environmental Prediction. "I told people before the year began that it's going to be a horrendous year."

Bielory co-authored a paper with Ziska last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences documenting how the ragweed season has grown up to 27 days in parts of the country since 1995. "It's clear that just in New Jersey over the past 20 to 25 years, there's been an increase of five to seven days for pollen," he said.

A changing climate also increases the likelihood of extreme weather events like heavy rainfall, which can exacerbate allergies from mold spores. Rotkin-Ellman cited the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans as an example of this. "It wasn't only dangerous levels of mold spores in homes, but all of the elevated levels of flooding created spores in the air as a whole," she said.

Stinging insects invade Alaska
Farther north, the shifting climate is proving to be a boon for stinging insects. Jeffrey Demain, director of the Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Center of Alaska, noted that America's northernmost state saw a 46 percent increase in insect stings, with some parts of the state suffering increases as high as 626 percent. Two insect fatalities were also recorded in 2006. Alaskans' "likelihood of exposure and interface with stinging insects is increasing," Demain said.

This comes largely from warmer winter temperatures leading to more snowfall, since Alaskan winters often reach the point where it's too cold to snow. The snow helped insulate insect dwellings, and as a result, more stinging insects survived the winter and expanded their ranges. Now people are finding out the hard way whether they are allergic to stings.

Birch trees, a major pollen source in Alaska, have also benefited from the recent climate changes. "Not only is there a likelihood we are insulating the insect queen's hibernaculum, the snowpack also protects the trees and it protects the roots," said Demain. "As the permafrost melts, we're seeing trees grow where there have never been trees."

Though Alaska's allergy predicament is relatively unusual in the United States, there are analogues in other parts of the world, according to Demain. "I think our allergy-related issues are correlated more with what you'd see in Sweden, just based on the latitude," he said.

Researchers in Europe have also observed allergy changes from the climate. Tim Sparks at the Institute for Advanced Study at the Technical University of Munich co-authored a paper earlier this month in the journal PLoS ONE that showed that increasing carbon dioxide is a bigger allergen driver than rising temperatures.

However, on shorter time frames, changes in weather patterns can alter allergic risks. "Heavy rainfall would tend to ground pollen," said Sparks. "High winds will transmit it further distances." Over the long term, Sparks expects pollen levels to continue to rise.

Fewer places to hide
Human vulnerability is the other side of the allergy problem. Asthma and associated allergy rates have risen all over the world, and scientists have yet to pin down a cause. "Everybody is scratching their heads," said Stephen Apaliski, an allergist and author of "Beating Asthma: 7 Simple Principles." "We're definitely seeing more cases of asthma. We seem to be having some worse cases of asthma, as well. We certainly know that the prevalence has risen over the past 20 years."

In addition, allergens are now so ubiquitous, it's hard to find a safe place for sensitive eyes, skin and throats. "There is almost nowhere you can really go to get away from this," said Apaliski. He noted that physicians in the past recommended that people with allergies move to drier climates, but even those areas are increasingly dusted with pollen.

Allergies can be especially troublesome in urban areas, where allergens coupled with pollution can form a potent health threat. "That synergy is really worrisome because of how many people in this country have asthma and rising rates of asthma," said the Natural Resources Defense Council's Rotkin-Ellman. "Ozone and pollen together are a very dangerous mixture." This will lead to more severe allergic reactions and more hospital visits.

As average temperatures rise, allergies will continue to rise, but only up to a certain point, according to Rutgers' Bielory. Eventually, pollen counts will hit a plateau and may even decline. "It cannot continue on a linear scale," he said. "If heat goes up to a certain temperature, plants will die. It will hit a breaking point."

USDA's Ziska said increased carbon dioxide levels will make allergenic weeds more difficult to control with herbicides. The solution is instead to make the environment more hospitable to native plant species and less prone to weed infestations, according to Steven Apfelbaum, a senior ecologist with Applied Ecological Services Inc., an environmental restoration firm. "Plan A would be to restore the land and the ecosystems so they are healthy and they can tolerate and are not as vulnerable to the unpredictable weather that has been tossed at them," he said.

For people with allergies, the best way to prevent reactions is to stay informed. Bielory is developing iPollenCount, an iPhone app to track pollen. Using this information, people can schedule their outdoor activities to minimize their exposure on high-risk days. More broadly, Bielory said people need to take steps to minimize their emissions, not only to curb short-term pollution, but to slow the long-term climate changes that are driving environmental health risks.

Still, there is no rapid way to reverse these allergy trends, and the risks will continue to increase for the foreseeable future. "My perspective is that we can mitigate all we want but have to learn to adapt and, more so, prepare," said Bielory.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC., 202-628-6500


May 20

Climate change

Climate change is making allergies worse

By Leonard Bielory

Spring is in full swing and swung into New Jersey earlier than ever this year. Extreme weather events and drastic changes in weather patterns are becoming a common occurrence. The effects of climate disruption on human health already are afflicting allergy and asthma sufferers along the East Coast and throughout the continental United States.

May is “Asthma Awareness Month” and this spring’s pollen levels are making history. Unseasonably warm temperatures affect both air quality and pollen levels. Asthmatics and people with seasonal allergies have been exposed to triggers that typically are not present until much later in the year.

Increased temperatures generate more ozone, leading to smog that further affects people with lung disease. The most vulnerable populations are children with asthma and allergies, and the elderly with emphysema and other chronic respiratory illnesses.

From February through April, pollen was at record high levels. This coincided with one of the driest and warmest winters on record. Pollen is an important trigger for both allergic reactions and asthma attacks. The longer and more intense exposure to pollen, especially when combined with pollutants, intensifies the severity of allergic reactions and asthmatic responses.

Nature is even speeding up its timetable. For the past three years, tree pollen has shown up a week earlier than the year before. The tree counts are creeping up faster than usual to historic levels. Grass pollen showed its face a month early this year. Normally seen in May, grass pollen was noted in late March. These numbers suggest an overall rise in pollen and an earlier, and longer, allergy season. Anyone who already suffers from the itchy throat, watery eyes and runny nose associated with seasonal allergies can attest to this.

But pollen is not the only climate-related factor that is putting people with allergies and asthma at risk.

Climate change will undoubtedly have a negative impact on air quality. Catastrophic weather events, such as hurricanes and extended heat waves, will be more common. Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 was associated with some of the highest mold spore counts. We’re in the throes of this pattern already, as demonstrated by the recent mild winter and several extraordinarily hot summers. Smog pollution is made only worse by hot weather. Smog aggravates asthma and permanently reduces lung function in children.

More than 120 health organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Lung Association, American Medical Association, American Nurses Association, American Public Health Association, American Thoracic Society and others, are on record stating:

“Climate change is a serious public health issue. As temperatures rise, more Americans will be exposed to conditions that can result in illness and death due to respiratory illness, heat- and weather-related stress and disease carried by insects. These health issues are likely to have the greatest impact on our most vulnerable communities, including children, older adults, those with serious health conditions and the most economically disadvantaged.”

Fortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed new safeguards that will protect human health by decreasing dangerous carbon pollution from new power plants. Referred to as New Source Performance Standards, these new protections will address the single largest contributor of carbon emissions: coal-fired power plants. New power plants will have to limit carbon pollution and other greenhouse gases, which are adding to climate disruption, while we need to also address older power plants to further improve on their emissions.

Climate change and its potential disruptive effects are a fundamental threat to human health. Limiting greenhouse gas pollution from new sources is a step in the right direction, recognizing that safeguards are important toward curbing climate disruption.

Through common-sense protections, our nation can participate in the global need to control and reduce various greenhouse gases, including carbon emissions that add to climate disruption.

These new safeguards can spark a wave of 21st century energy innovation and modernization that will protect our communities’ health as well as put Americans back to work.

Leonard Bielory is an allergy specialist with the Rutgers Center of Environmental Prediction and an attending physician at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Allergy and Immunology.

May 18

Hows the climate change?

Climate change may occur too quickly for many animals, according to a new study published in theProceedings of the National Academy of SciencesMonday (May 14). Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle estimate that climate change will outpace about 9 percent of mammal species in the Western Hemisphere, bringing about devastating weather changes before the animals can move into new, hospitable territories.

Many species have already begun expanding their ranges to escape the warming climates and changes in precipitation, and may successfully escape significant population crashes. Animals with already dynamic ranges, for example, like caribou and wolves, are expected to be able to outrun climate change. But others, like primates and some rodents, may not respond in time

May 02

Hay fever

The medical term for nasal allergy symptoms is "allergic rhinitis." ("Rhinitis" comes from the ancient Greek word "rhinos" for nose, and the second part of the word "itis" means inflammation.)

The medical term for hayfever is "seasonal allergic rhinitis" since the condition involves nose and eye symptoms and is caused by the body reacting to different pollen types during specific seasons. In the UK, this is usually the spring and early summer.

The term hayfever was coined in 1828 by a British physician, Dr. John Bostock, who noticed that his symptoms worsened during the haymaking season. The expression is a bit misleading, because allergies seldom cause a fever and are rarely related to hay.

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Location: Springfield, NJ
Today's Date: July 04, 2020
Station Director: Leonard Bielory, M.D
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