Image Credit: Jolene Creighton

Cats are probably the most popular thing on the internet. Admittedly, dogs are rather popular, but few creatures can live up to the awesomeness that is “Grumpy Cat”. But despite their online popularity, cats are not quite as revered in the real world. This could partly result from the fact an estimated 30 million individuals are allergic to cats (and that’s just in the United States).

Pet allergies are one of the most common forms of allergies, and although these reactions aren’t usually too serious, they are rather annoying. In general, allergies cost the health care system and businesses in the U.S. some 7.9 billion dollar annually. So finding a way to combat these reactions will not only help runny-nosed individuals everywhere, it could potentially save trillions of dollars globally.

Allergic reactions happen when an individual’s immune system overreacts to something that it sees as a threat. Instead of responding to a harmful virus or bacteria, it misidentifies different materials (nuts, pollen, pet dander etc.) as dangerous and mounts an immune response. Thus, a key factor in combating allergies is determining the allergen (the specific component of a material that causes the allergic reaction).

Previously, scientists were not sure what caused the allergic response to pet dander (microscopic pieces of animal skin often accompanied by dried saliva from grooming), but a team of scientists from Cambridge University recently identified the culprit: a kind of protein called “Fel d 1.” Not only that, after identifying the allergen, the scientists identified the part of immune system that recognizes this allergen and effectively blocked it.

Castiel (Image Credit: Jaime Trosper)

To hash this out a bit: after identifying this protein (Fel d 1), the researchers were able to discover the part of the immune system that recognizes this protein as a pathogen, a receptor known as TLR4. From here, they tested a drug that is meant to inhibit TLR4 (effectively blocking the allergic response in the receptor). The researchers found that the drug does indeed block the effects of the cat dander protein on human cells ie., no more allergic response.

Dr. Clare Bryant, lead author of the research, stated that the team is “hopeful that our research will lead to new and improved treatments for cat and possibly dog allergy sufferers.” Some have even stated that, within five years, a pill or inhaler could be on the market that would allow people to interact with cats without any kind of bad reaction. Current drugs help relieve the symptoms of allergic reactions; these new drugs would block or prevent the reaction (exciting news!).

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