Latex allergy: a model for therapy

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Allergy to natural rubber latex products emerged as an important clinical condition following an increase in the use of latex gloves for barrier protection in the early 1980s. In addition to latex glove users, other high-risk groups with different latex exposure include spina bifida patients and others with multiple surgical procedures. Subjects with fruit and vegetable allergy are also at risk due to cross-reactive allergens. Following the significant advances in the identification and characterization of common aeroallergens, latex allergy was well placed to become an excellent model of therapy. Awareness of latex allergy and modes of sensitization enabled epidemiological studies to inform allergen avoidance initiatives, substantially reducing inadvertent exposure in major hospitals in Western countries. Spina bifida is often identified in utero or soon after birth, allowing vigorous latex allergen avoidance with enhanced efficacy of primary prevention. However, changing demographics of latex allergy and technological revolution in countries such as China and India are predicted to unleash a second wave of latex allergy reemphasizing the incentive for improved manufacturing procedures for latex products. The desirable high tensile strength and elasticity of natural rubber latex have made the commercial identification of good alternatives very difficult but this would also be attractive for primary prevention. In addition, an effective specific immunotherapy regimen would be valuable for selected high-risk atopic individuals. Current subcutaneous and sublingual immunotherapy schedules have been tested for treatment of latex allergy with evidence of efficacy but the risks of adverse events are high. For such potent allergens as latex, hypoallergenic but T cell-reactive preparations are required for clinical use. Identification of allergenic components of latex products, with generation of monoclonal antibodies and recombinant allergens, allowed sequence determination and mapping of T cell and B cell epitopes. Together, these reagents and data facilitated improved diagnostics and investigation of novel-specific therapeutics. Potential hypoallergenic latex preparations identified include modified non-IgE-reactive allergen molecules and short T cell epitope peptides. The co-administration of adjunct therapies such as anti-IgE or corticosteroids and of appropriate adjuvants for induction of regulatory T cell response offers promise for clinically effective, safe latex-specific vaccines.

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