According to the World Allergy Organization, allergies and asthma affect at least a quarter of the population, and allergy has been declared a major health problem of the 21st century. Importantly, many scientists are predicting that due to our unprecedented use of hygiene regimes imposed globally by COVID-19, the allergy crisis may escalate.
A shakeup in the allergy diagnosis world
Researchers with the EU-funded AllergyExplorer project tackled the issue of allergy, not only to minimise the health hazard but to reduce the cost of improper diagnosis. Insufficient diagnosis, and incorrect treatment as a result, costs Member States of Europe EUR 140 billion a year. To date, clinicians have been forced to select only a few likely allergens for testing, creating the possibility of misdiagnosis. The AllergyExplorer’s system incorporates a staggering range of some 300 globally relevant allergens – from seafood to house dust mites – with a large selection of usual offenders such as pollen. The simple blood test relies on the detection of antibodies Immunoglobulin E (IgE). There is a very strong correlation between allergies and IgE antibodies. The new system “is a one stop global allergen panel, so we have a worldwide picture of allergy. Unlike many of our competitors, we do not have regionally specific allergen panels, and this makes our product unique,” says Christian Harwanegg, project coordinator. After the diagnosis of the allergens the patient is sensitive to, the options are avoidance and taking meds, antihistamines, etc. Thanks to AllergyExplorer, desensitisation through immunotherapy and constant exposure to small amounts of the allergen(s) also becomes a real possibility. Eventually, this could result in reduced allergy that can be treated with low-impact drugs.
Running in parallel and ahead of evolution
The team are learning as they go and adding new allergens to the panel as required. For example, they have incorporated the fire ant that can cause anaphylactic shock in a minority of cases and is common in South America. Another recent addition is edible insects used increasingly to provide high-protein food. In our dynamic world, AllergyExplorer is also taking note of the increase in invasive allergens due to climate warming. Due to lack of natural enemies, for example, newly introduced species can become a problem.
Education part of the package
“To support doctors, we have developed an interpretation and decision support tool,” outlines Harwanegg. The result is a mass training of allergy specialists across the world, especially those that are able to deal with complex molecular results. Serving to decrease doctors’ insecurities about using such tools, education is of paramount importance. By integrating the interpretation and decision support tool into the software package and having an online doctors’ portal, they continually learn with each new patient.
The allergy sufferer benefits all round
Cost to the patient is being reduced on two levels, lower manufacturing cost with automation at the customer end as well as during production processes. Cost per patient in the United Kingdom ranges from no charge to several hundreds of GBP depending on the insurance coverage. The aim is to get the test included in the public reimbursement schemes/insurance systems as soon as possible. Wrapping up what AllergyExplorer means to the allergy sufferer, Harwanegg concludes: “We are enabling patient-tailored medicine to allergy diagnostics. The project has developed a democratising tool to enable both doctors and patients to get the best outcome from the test. We want to have the right diagnosis for the patients every time.”
AllergyExplorer, allergy, allergen, diagnosis, decision support