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09 April 2019

Allergy answers about Australian people and Australian seafood

AITHM research fellow Dr Sandip Kamath has a three-part plan to improve diagnosis and treatment of potentially deadly seafood allergy for people in Northern Australia. Part one of his plan involves building a biobank of local seafood samples. Part two includes the analysis of human and allergen samples to gauge the severity and frequency of allergic reactions in hundreds of people. Finally, he plans to develop a simple pinprick allergy-testing device, and a vaccine.

Dr Kamath works with Professor Andreas Lopata in the Molecular Allergy Research Laboratory, and has worked his way through several steps of his plan. 2018 was a busy year. He and his team collected more than 200 local fish and shellfish samples and gathered more than 400 human blood samples. Seventy of these blood samples were obtained from Northern Queenslanders in the Townsville Translational Research Facility. Dr Kamath is also collecting samples in collaboration with the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne and the Westmead Children’s hospital in Sydney.

Most of Australia’s seafood allergy testing is based on European seafood samples. However, an allergy test for the Alaska Pollock, the fourth most commonly consumed fish in Europe, is not effective in protecting Northern Australia’s population of Barramundi and Black Tiger Prawn-eating people. Dr Kamath and his colleagues have been visiting local seafood markets to collect local samples, which they blend with a solution to enable molecular level analysis.

“We now have big inventory of allergenic proteins from our local region that we can use for molecular analysis. We store them at very low temperatures in the AITHM cryostore (biobank) facilities. Now I am testing to find answers to questions like: which species do people in this part of the world react to most seriously and most often,” explained Dr Kamath.

Dr Kamath looks for an antibody called IgE in blood samples when he is testing for allergic reactions. This particular antibody is present in the blood of allergic people; it binds like a magnet to the allergenic proteins that travel to the bloodstream after consumption of seafood. It is this reaction that can cause blood pressure to drop and, in extreme cases of anaphylaxis, an allergic reaction that can fatally shut down the body.

Not all seafood-allergic people react, however, to all types of seafood. Dr Kamath has now identified one of the most allergenic species of Northern Australia: the Black Tiger Prawn. There are six to seven allergens in the Black Tiger Prawn that trigger a reaction in 90 per cent of people with seafood allergy. As a result, Dr Kamath will use Black Tiger Prawn allergens as the basis for development of new diagnostics and treatments.

Dr Kamath’s research is important because one in 100 people have a seafood allergy. It is not an allergy that people grow out of, and present diagnostics are not as relevant and accessible as they could be for people in Northern Australia. Peanut allergy may be in the news more often, but fish and shellfish allergies account for more deaths in Australia than any other type of allergy.

“My aim now is to use the knowledge I have gained about how to deal with allergens to develop a vaccine to treat fish and shellfish allergy, and also to develop a hand-held diagnostic device that can determine if a patient is sensitised and what they are sensitised to,” said Dr Kamath, “A GP could use a device such as this.” 

Dr Sandip Kamath

Phone: (07) 4781 4846

Location: Townsville Campus

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