MAINZ, Germany, Sept. 23 (UPI) -- Allergen-specific immunotherapy, or allergy shots, can often come with serious side effects, however researchers may have found a way to avoid that risk by packaging allergens in nanoparticles that target where they are delivered in the body.
Allergy shots reduce sensitivity to things such as cats, bees or pollen by slowly exposing the body to increasing amounts allergens in the system, effectively teaching the immune system to tolerate them.
"In the last decades, the number of allergic patients has increased dramatically," researchers wrote in the study, published in Biomacromolecules. "Allergen-specific immunotherapy [SIT] is the only available cause-oriented therapy so far. SIT reduces the allergic symptoms, but also exhibits some disadvantages -- that is, it is a long-lasting procedure and severe side effects like anaphylactic shock can occur."
The use of nanoparticles to deliver allergens to alleviate patient's sensitivity to them is not a new idea, however previous carriers have degraded too slow in the body.
To avoid this problem, researchers at the University of Mainz designed a nanocarrier using polyethylene glycol, which releases allergens at specifically targeted cells.
According to the researchers, the nanocarrier degrades when it encounters the acidic parts of a targeted cell, triggering the release of the allergen. In lab tests, the researchers showed the tactic keeps the allergens shielded from the wrong cells while inducing the immune reactions sought to alleviate an allergy.
In addition to allergies, the method could help to deliver vaccines or immunotherapy for other conditions such as cancer or AIDS, researchers said in a press release.