New study results show which pollen is the most aggressive
As summer approaches, those unlucky enough to suffer from pollen allergies will be putting together their annual defence strategies in preparation, and a new EU-funded study that has revealed which pollens are more of a threat than others could help them plan more tactfully.
Researchers from 13 partner institutes across Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom came together to conduct the 3-year HIALINE ('Health Impacts of Airborne Allergen Information Network') study, which received EUR 599,429 of funding under the EU's Executive Agency for Health and Consumers' Health Programme.
The aim at the offset was to determine the natural variation of allergen content of pollen from birch, grass and olive, and to implement an allergen forecast system.
Birch, grass and olive are the three main triggers of hay fever in Europe and investigating the allergic potential of pollens from them can help those who suffer from allergic pollen reactions.
Different people can have very different allergic reactions to a particular type of pollen, and the allergenicity of the pollens also varies depending on the time of year and the region as pollens produce different quantities of protein compounds and it is these that ultimately determine the characteristics of an allergic immune reaction.
Sufferers develop allergic symptoms when they come in contact with the allergen to which they are sensitised but until now the only way to ascertain how seriously someone will be affected has been to measure the airborne pollen concentration. However, this method gives little indication of how aggressive the pollens are as depending on their level of maturation, the pollens of a particular plant species not only produce different allergens, but the number of allergenic proteins present also varies.
Now, the HIALINE team have investigated the connection between pollen count and the amount of allergens released. They focused on the main allergen found in each of the three plant species: Bet v 1 (birch), Phl p 5 (grass) and Ole e 1 (olive). Their research shows that pollen count is closely related to the number of allergens released.
However, the team noted that some differences exist between certain days and particular measuring stations.
'The allergic potential varied by a factor of 10,' explains study director Jeroen Buters. 'In other words up to ten times more allergens were released on the 'intense' days than at other times.'
The greatest fluctuations were noted in the grass pollens at different measuring locations. With seven times the number of Phl p 5 allergens, the grass pollens in France were significantly more aggressive than those in Portugal. The birch pollens, by contrast, showed smaller variations.
But geographical distance seems to have played only a minor role as at 2 olive measuring stations located only 400 kilometres apart the researchers noted that the allergen level was 4 times greater at one of the locations.
Dr Buters describes how the weather played a part too: 'At the measuring station in Portugal, we found a high concentration of the Ole e 1 allergen, even though there was hardly any airborne pollen in Portugal at that time. We did some meteorological calculations and concluded that the allergen had blown in from Spain, where pollens have a significantly higher allergic potential.'
The study has implications for future research in the field and could lead to better treatments for allergy sufferers, as Dr Buters explains: 'By combining allergen measurements, airborne pollen forecasts and weather data, we can significantly improve the allergy models used to date. The only true therapy for an allergy is hyposensitisation, i.e. the sufferer must become accustomed to the allergen over a long period of time. So instead of pollen extracts, doctors could vaccinate patients with allergenic proteins - the real triggers of an allergy. This would be much more effective in targeting the cause of the problem.'
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Document Reference: Buters, J.T.M., et al. 'Release of Bet v 1 from birch pollen from 5 European countries. Results from the HIALINE study', Atmospheric Environment, 2012. doi:10.1016/j.atmosenv.2012.01.054
Subject Index: Biotechnology; Coordination, Cooperation; Environmental Protection; Life Sciences; Medicine, Health; Scientific Research