McMaster researchers create instruction manual to detect rare cells that could unlock secrets to allergies

Jan. 26, 2024
New allergy instruction manual.

Researchers with McMaster University have created an instruction manual that will help scientists across the globe find hard to detect B cells.

Led by PhD student Alyssa Phelps and Department of Medicine Assistant Professor Josh Koenig, researchers wanted to chart a path to finding these cells as part of their work in understanding food allergies. Their work was published in the journal Nature Protocols on January 19, 2024.

To give an example of just how rare these cells can be, Koenig pointed to a peanut-specific B cell.  It makes up less than 0.0001 per cent of immune cells in human blood. 

The team adopted a method originally created by Justin Taylor, who now operates the Taylor Lab out of the University of Virginia. Taylor created a method using antigen tetramers to sensitively tag and enrich specific B cells so they can be detected. 

Tetramers are made up of four antigen molecules, which in this case, can be customized by scientists. The customization is vast and can cover everything from peanuts to COVID-19 specific B cells.

In addition to better understanding how allergies work in humans, tetramers can be used to study the efficacy of vaccines. This is something that was done by Koenig and his team in assisting McMaster researchers Matthew Miller, Brian Lichty, and Zhou Xing in determining whether their vaccine candidate activated protective COVID-specific B cells.

McMaster University release on Newswise