In a previous piece, you learned about the molecular basis of allergic reactions to the cat. You know, then, that the particle reponsible for feline-based allergy is called Fel d1. It is shed by the salivary and skin glands of every cat, in varying amounts depending upon the individual cat. It's the source of great discomfort for millions of people.
The human body's immune system is its defense against dangerous enemies, like measles. A properly trained immune system will identify attackers on sight and summon assistance in the form of cells and antibodies. After a brief struggle, the measles will be bound, gagged, and shown to the door. Crisis averted. Allergies, on the other hand, are not infections. They are caused by a short circuit in the sentry cells of the immune system. These well-meaning cells zero in on some cat dander that has entered your nose and get all hot under the collar. Thinking they've spotted the enemy, they send out a distress call. Troops and ordnance are dispatched ASAP, but when they arrive, the enemy is nowhere to be seen. Frustrated immune cells trample everything in their vicinity (in this case, your upper respiratory system) in the search for something to kill. The enemy is never located, because Fel d1 is actually not an intimidating infectious organism but a helpless dead particle that can't do anything but float around and stick to things. You end up feeling like you have an infection (runny nose, scratchy throat, swollen and itchy eyes) for no good reason.
Despite the inevitable and uncomfortable consequences of exposure, some cat-allergic people do insist upon keeping cats. Lots of things are recommended for stifling their symptoms. Some have been aimed at suppressing the immune system or reprogramming it to tolerate Fel d1. Others involve shampooing the cat regularly (an exercise that many of us attempt only once in our lives), purchasing an expensive air filtration system, or vacuuming daily with a specially certified appliance. Wouldn't it be nice if there were some easy way to detoxify your cat, like feeding him a special food? Researchers at Purina are working on just such a concept. Their first step was to inoculate healthy chickens with Fel d1. Any egg from these special chickens is just loaded with Mother Hen's antibodies against Fel d1. They bind to it and coat the surface, masking its identity from the human immune system. Pesky allergic reactions can no longer be ignited by this unrecognizable particle. When the egg protein was applied to cat food, study animals remained healthy, and allergens were partially blocked in 97% of them. Active allergen levels were slashed by 30% or more, in over 85% of the study participants. Even a single-digit reduction in particles can improve an allergic person's comfort level, so the results of this study are quite promising. Imagine cat-allergic people, free to own the pet they want, with nothing more complicated than a different bag of food. Keep your eye on Purina for further developments with this exciting new concept.
Dr. M.S. Regan