Scientists Can Literally Become Allergic to Their Research

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Brian Fry’s heart was pounding as he stepped through the snake’s fence and examined the bite mark on his hand. He was bitten by just one death Adder, Is one of Australia’s most venomous snakes. Its neurotoxin-let bite can cause vomiting, paralysis and, as the name suggests – death.

Fry, a graduate student at the time, had kept snakes for years. Oddly, neurotoxins were not her biggest concern; A nearby hospital needs an antivenum, and, although data are limited, people who receive treatment typically survive. Anaphylactic shock, on the other hand, can kill him within minutes.

“Anaphylactic shock is the worst feeling you can possibly imagine,” recalls Fry, a biologist at the University of Queensland in Australia. “It’s just crazy. Every cell in your body is screaming in mortal terror. “

Fry, who had spent his life studying inexorable and ultimately venomous snakes, had a fatal allergy.

While most cases are not so extreme, anecdotal reports and expert analysis suggest that it is rare for scientists, students, and laboratory technicians to develop allergies to the organisms they study. Broadly, some allergy researchers say, it is the researchers’ obsession with their subjects – close observation, long hours of work each day, and years of commitment to a research project – that put them at such high risk Huh.

John Carlson, a physician and researcher at Tulane University, pointed out that some things cause allergies more than others, but the biggest factor is the frequency of interaction with the study organism. “The probability of developing an allergy is about 30 percent of what you have. You study it.” While data are limited, this estimate is consistent with research on occupational allergies, which the study suggests As many as 44 percent Of people working with laboratory rodents, Everywhere 40 Percent Of veterinarians, and 25 To 40 Percent people who work with insects.

The federal The guidelines Suggest that laboratories have “well-designed air-handling systems” and that workers donate appropriate personal protective equipment, or PPE, to reduce the risk of developing allergies. However, interviews with researchers and experts suggest that there may be little awareness or adherence to guidelines such as these. For scientists working for less common species and those engaged in fieldwork, the information that actually constitutes suitable PPE can be very limited.

Many researchers, especially those who do fieldwork, are used to being uncomfortable at the service of their work, Carlson explains. “I think a lot of researchers are so interested in the process of research,” he said, “They are not really considering the long-term effects that it might have on them.”

In general, allergic reactions Developed when the immune system overreacts to a substance that is usually harmless, or relatively harmless. The immune system monitors the body for potentially dangerous invaders such as bacteria, fungi and viruses. Sometimes, for reasons that are not well understood, the immune system identifies something benign, such as pollen or animal dandruff, dangerous. To help mark an intruder, a person who has become sensitive in this way produces antibodies, or types of proteins, to identify them.

When that person comes in contact with the substance again, antibodies mark it as an invader. As part of the response, immune cells release compounds such as histamine, which causes irritation and inflammation to the surrounding tissue, resulting in allergic symptoms.