Can Cats Treat Cat Allergies?

By Laura Tangley
New York Times News Service
Published November 6, 2005

If you're a mouse, an attack of the sniffles when you scamper by a bit of cat hair may be a good thing--an early warning system allowing a quick getaway from the predator.

In the natural world, of course, mice rarely, if ever, suffer from cat allergies. But laboratory mice specially bred to be allergic to cats have been cured by researchers who have developed a novel approach to allergy treatment.

The results may lead to better therapy for millions of people who are allergic to cats, including 14 percent of those ages 6 through 19, and for the estimated 50 million Americans who suffer from some type of allergy.

The new treatment involves linking a feline protein that causes cat allergies to a human protein that stops immune system cells from releasing histamine, the chemical that sets off allergy symptoms.

To test the therapy, the scientists exposed the allergic mice to proteins from cat saliva or dander, then injected some of them with the human-feline protein. A single injection "blunted the allergic response before it began," said Dr. Christopher L. Kepley, an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and a co-author of the report. Kepley conducted the study with scientists at UCLA.

In earlier work, Kepley and his colleagues tested the treatment on cultured blood cells from people who were allergic to cats. Cells containing the human-feline protein released 90 percent less histamine than those that did not.

If the therapy works as well in humans as it does in mice, Kepley said, it may lead to a "faster and safer" way to treat a variety of human allergies. The problem with traditional desensitization treatments like allergy shots, he said, is that they require multiple injections with gradually increasing doses, a process that can take a year.

Allergy sufferers will have to be patient, though. The cat allergy treatment will not be available for at least three to five years, Kepley said.