Institut Pasteur and SUP Biotech present “MOVING SCIENCE FORWARD” Allergies, by Nhân Pham Thi Doctor and Head of the Allergy Department at the Institut Pasteur Medical Center What is an allergy? An allergy is a reaction of our organism, our body, and more precisely our immune system, to a substance, often a protein, from the external environment, which the body interprets as a potential attack. The body reacts to this protein, and depending on the target organ – the area of the body where the allergy flares up – the reaction will be different. It may be an allergy to a food that you eat, with a major reaction that might result in a rash or cause you to feel unwell, and in the worst case may lead to anaphylactic shock, which can be fatal. It might be an allergic reaction in the nose or eyes, which results in allergic rhinoconjunctivitis; in the respiratory tract, which causes asthma; or on the skin, with eczema or contact dermatitis, for example. WHO estimates suggest that virtually one in every three people, or even one in every two people, will suffer from allergies over the coming decades. So it’s a phenomenon whose frequency and severity are increasing rapidly all over the world. Are there any treatments? Allergies are extremely complex, with a vast number of factors and clinical expressions which vary over time and in terms of severity. So it’s important to try to understand the problem in detail. To start with we need to carry out a very precise diagnosis of the allergen and the reactions, etc., so that we can offer a personalized, highly detailed treatment tailored to each patient. There are symptomatic treatments, to reduce the symptoms in the target organs, which I mentioned earlier, but there’s also a specific treatment: allergen-specific immunotherapy, or desensitization. In other words, we try to enter into contact with the person’s immune system and reduce the allergic reactions. It’s almost as if we’re saying to the body: “Calm down, stop overreacting” – whether to pollen, dust mites or a given food. We take the view that this is a protein which we should tolerate, and we teach the body and the organism to stay calm when it comes into contact with these proteins. Where does research stand today? Here at the Institut Pasteur, lots of teams are involved in researching the body’s internal environment, the intestinal flora, which communicates with our immune system and with the outside world. Here, in our Allergy and Environmental Medicine Department, we focus instead on the external environment, the relationship between our body and our external environment, and we try to identify why our body sometimes reacts so violently when it comes into contact with something that it should tolerate easily. The Institut Pasteur Medical Center works closely with the Institut Pasteur Center for Translational Science. We use cohorts of patients and try to monitor their reactions and to understand in more detail how our immune system interacts with our environment. Our main aim is to set up ambitious research projects which try to provide answers to questions that will become crucial over the next few years, given the exponential growth in patients who have and will have allergies in the years to come. These projects, which need to be supported, will help provide preventive solutions and also potential therapies. How does biotechnology help to advance your research? In our cohort-based environmental projects, current and future technologies have a major role to play, since they enable us to obtain precise measurements, to support our patients and to understand what is known as the exposome, in other words all the things we are exposed to on a daily basis, so that we can identify how this external environment interacts with our body. The Institut Pasteur is a state-approved foundation authorized to receive donations and legacies.