Meat allergies are a bit exotic!

Allergies are everywhere and allergic reactions to foods are widespread. For a long time we knew very little about meat allergies. Until Ines Swoboda, a molecular biologist at FH Campus Wien, and her team succeeded for the first time last year in identifying a major allergen in white meat. 

Ms. Swoboda, you are researching food allergies and, among others, meat allergies. Why? 

Our goal is to improve the possibilities of diagnosis and therapy for meat allergies. For a long time very little was known about meat allergies. One reason could be the inadequate quality of the extracts that are currently used for the diagnosis. To improve the diagnostic possibilities, we wanted to find out specifically which molecules in the meat cause allergies.

What types of meat allergies are we talking about?

You have to differentiate between two types: Most allergy sufferers react either to white meat, in other words poultry, or to mammalian meat, in other words red meat. There are very few who are allergic to both white and red meat. 

So what does the research team do exactly?

Two researchers are currently working on identifying and characterizing meat allergens. Students are assisting them as part of their Bachelor and Master theses. Our project partners are the Medical University of Vienna, the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna, the Floridsdorf Allergy Center, the La Paz Hospital in Madrid and the Luxembourg Institute of Health. 

What are the results of your research so far?

We succeeded for the first time in the last academic year in identifying and characterizing a major allergen in white meat. It is a muscle protein (Myosin light chain) that is highly resistant to heat and in vitro has displayed a high resistance to digestive enzymes. We have also already tested the identified protein with a larger population of meat allergy sufferers, most of whom reacted to it. We have also been able to identify a similar muscle protein in red meat, however we do not yet know if it is a major allergen.

What impact does your discovery have on the improvement of the diagnostic possibilities?

Thanks to modern biotechnology, we can produce very pure recombinant allergens in large quantities. These recombinant allergens are well suited for testing and we hope that with the discovered major allergen we have found a tool that can also be used in diagnosis. As a next step, we are therefore now considering approaching companies that specialize in the production of recombinant allergens for allergy tests with our research results.

Will there be new, improved treatment options in the future?

Meat allergies are currently treated primarily by omitting meat or using antihistamines. Another possibility would also be immunotherapy, however, in its current form it is often not successful. Therefore, we want to develop a specific immunotherapy: Instead of the current practice of using extracts that are obtained from allergen sources, in the future we want to treat patients with individual allergens.