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Raffaela Campana awarded FWF research grant

MedUni Vienna allergy researcher investigates immune response to the birch pollen allergen Bet v 1
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(Vienna, 07 June 2021) Raffaela Campana, senior postdoc at MedUni Vienna's Institute of Pathophysiology and Allergy Research has been awarded a research grant by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF). She is researching the immune response of allergic and non-allergic subjects to the birch pollen allergen Bet v 1.

Allergic diseases are a major global public health problem and their prevalence has been steadily increasing, now affecting nearly 30% of the world population.

Allergy is a chronic condition involving a misguided reaction on the part of the immune system to harmless foreign substances called allergens. In people prone to allergies, the immune system produces a special kind of antibodies, so-called IgE antibodies, against allergens. If IgE antibodies, which sit on so-called mast cells, bind to an allergen, the mast cells release various inflammatory substances, such as histamine, which cause allergic symptoms such as rhinitis, conjunctivitis, asthma, skin manifestations and, in the worst case, anaphylaxis. Currently, allergen-specific immunotherapy is the only effective long-term treatment for allergic diseases and the success of immunotherapy is associated with the production of IgG antibodies directed against the allergens, which block the binding of IgE antibodies to allergens.

Birch pollen is a major airborne allergen source in countries in the Northern Hemisphere, Northern and Central Europe and Russia. Birch pollen allergy affects more than 100 million patients worldwide and is predominantly mediated by the major birch pollen allergen, Bet v 1.

Due to the fact that proteins with a similar structure to Bet v 1 are also present in various plant food allergen sources (e.g. apples, peaches, kiwis, celery, carrots, soya, hazelnuts, peanuts, pears, cherries), the majority of people who are allergic to birch pollen are also allergic to various foods.

In this FWF-funded project ("Immune response to the major birch pollen allergen Bet v 1 in allergic and non-allergic individuals", P 34472), a detailed analysis will be performed of the IgE and IgG antibody responses in subjects with birch pollen allergy and in non-allergic subjects, using a high-resolution micro-arrayed allergen assay. This assay will include the major birch pollen allergen Bet v 1, the most common Bet v 1-related food allergens and Bet v 1 peptides (small parts of the whole protein). Additionally, this project will also investigate the responses of T cells (i.e. immune cells that play a role in the adaptive immune response and immune tolerance) in subjects with and without allergy to Bet v 1.

The project will therefore provide important knowledge on the normal immune response to Bet v 1, which may be used to develop vaccination and tolerance induction strategies for birch pollen allergy.

About Raffaela Campana
Raffaela Campana studied biology in Brazil and completed her PhD in Genetics and Microbiology at the University of Vienna. She has worked as a guest scientist at Allergopharma in Reinbek, at Vienna Biocenter and at the University of Zürich. She is currently researching as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at MedUni Vienna. Her main research focus is molecular and cellular allergology. She has already received several awards, including the "Bencard Specific Immunotherapy Funding Award 2010" from the German Society of Allergology and Clinical Immunology (DGAKI).