MedUni Vienna: Early detection of allergies – especially in children

People can become allergically sensitized straight from birth. "Early screening is therefore important to detect allergies early so that steps can be taken to prevent serious forms of illness developing," say the MedUni Vienna allergy researchers, speaking on the occasion of World Immunology Day on 29 April and the current WHO World Immunization Week. Therefore, true to the slogan for this 2016 action week, "Close the Immunization Gap" the aim is essentially to close gaps in the provision of immunization. However, a prerequisite for providing protective immunization against allergies is to have an accurate allergy diagnosis in the first place.

The best and most effective method currently available for diagnosing allergies at an early stage was co-developed at MedUni Vienna by Rudolf Valenta (Institute for Pathophysiology and Allergy Research at the Center for Pathophysiology, Infectiology and Immunology): the allergen chip. "We only need one drop of blood to test for the allergy," says Winfried Pickl of the Institute for Immunology at the MedUni Vienna Center for Pathophysiology, Infectiology and Immunology. "Particularly children who are at higher risk, for example if there are allergies in the family, should be tested and also allergy sufferers who have more than one allergy."

"Apart from children and adults, the target group for the allergy test also includes the elderly in our increasingly ageing population," emphasizes Erika Jensen-Jarolim, MedUni Vienna allergy researcher. Nowadays, one in three people in Austria suffers from an allergy, 20 years ago the figure was one in four – and the trend continues to rise. It starts with simple hay fever brought on by environmental allergens but – especially in the case of allergies to foodstuffs or insect venom – it can end up causing circulatory collapse. This is why it is all the more important to identify the allergy at an early stage and provide appropriate treatment. "The perfect scenario would be if children were to start school with an allergy test in their school bags," said the MedUni Vienna immunologist. The test with the allergy chip shows up antibodies, even before there are any apparent symptoms. This would make parents aware early on that allergies might develop.

The test can be done privately in the Vienna allergy centers. "Currently statutory health insurance funds will not meet the costs of the test," said Jensen-Jarolim.

Vienna leads the world when it comes to immunology
Vienna has a very long tradition of fundamental immunology research in general and enjoys special international status. For example, it was the Austrian paediatrician Clemens von Pirquet who first coined the term "allergy" in 1906. Today, MedUni Vienna has its own immunology research cluster and additional research is currently being pursued e.g. in the Christian Doppler laboratory for developing allergen chips, in the special allergy research area SFB46 (strategies for the prevention and treatment of allergies) and in doctoral programme W1248 (molecular, cellular and clinical allergology). In addition to that, the immunologists at MedUni Vienna network with top international scientists.

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