The Allergy-Free Cat

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Orders are currently being taken for the world’s first allergy- free cat, a pet created by Allerca, the same people who brought us the first glow-in-the-dark fish (the Glo-Fish). The cats are genetically engineered using a “gene silencing technique” so they don’t produce Fel d 1, the protein in cat urine and saliva that triggers an allergic reaction in people. According to CNN, the cats cost $3950 each and will be available in 2007.

If you look at the Allerca website, they say that people with cat allergies who wish to have a cat may not be able to take allergy medications or allergy injections due to lifestyle limitations. 

Allergen immunotherapy requires a weekly injection for several months followed by a monthly injection for 3 to 5 years, after which symptoms to all cat would be significantly diminished or even eliminated. Whereas if you have a $4000 cat, you would still be allergic to other cats and the cat dander on everyone else’s clothes and homes. And what if something happens to your allergy-free cat?

Any one reading this who’s seriously considering getting one of these cats?

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13 thoughts on “The Allergy-Free Cat

  1. Hi Dr de Asis,
    First of all, I really like this site. There is such a need for sites like this giving reliable, evidence-based information about allergy. Keep up the good work!

    One thing puzzles me: in the UK, as far as I know, only people who can’t avoid cats e.g. veterinarians, would be considered for allergen immunotherapy – see for example http://www.allergyhospital.co.uk/desensitisation.htm – Dr. Adrian Morris. Avoidance appears to be the preferred therapeutic option. Perhaps this is a function of the historic and chronic underresourcing of allergy care by the NHS. Would people be considered for desensitisation in the USA, on the grounds that they wanted to be able to keep a cat?

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  2. Hi HCW,
    Thanks for your comment and the interesting link (we’re not doing sublingual IT in the US because it is not yet FDA approved, but I’m sure it’s coming).
    The answer to your question is yes, if a patient is demonstrably allergic to a cat or dog (correlating clinical picture with presence of IgE by skin or blood test) and is unable to avoid cat/ dog exposure for various reasons(in the US, 1 out of 3-4 people have pets and carry pet dander with them and thus expose other people to pet dander even if that person does not have a pet. Studies have shown that cat dander in particular is found in the dust in schools and movie theater seats), they would be considered a candidate for allergen immunotherapy. The old attitude was similar to what you describe in the UK, and if my patient is severely allergic with complications such as asthma or chronic sinusitis, I strongly encourage them to lose the offending pet. But, there’s no accounting for psychological needs, and I have some patients who regard their pets as their children and absolutely refuse to get rid of them. Who are we to deny them the benefits of a proven medical therapy?

    The JCAI (Joint Council of Allergy and Immunology) published practice guidelines for allergen immunotherapy which I’m excerpting below:

    Patient Selection

    Summary Statement 17. Allergen immunotherapy should be considered for patients who have demonstrable evidence of specific IgE antibodies to clinically relevant allergens. The decision to begin allergen immunotherapy depends on the degree to which symptoms can be reduced by avoidance and medication, the amount and type of medication required to control symptoms, and the adverse effects of medications. Patients who wish to avoid or reduce the long-term use of medications are good candidates for immunotherapy. (A) A complete list of clinical indications for immunotherapy can be found in Table 5 in the original guideline document.

    Summary Statement 18. Patients with severe, poorly controlled asthma are at higher risk for systemic reactions to immunotherapy injections. (C)

    Summary Statement 19. Venom immunotherapy should be strongly
    considered in patients with a history of a systemic reaction to a Hymenoptera sting (especially if the reaction was associated with respiratory or cardiovascular symptoms) and patients with demonstrable evidence of specific IgE antibodies. (A)

    Summary Statement 20. Patients selected for immunotherapy should be cooperative and compliant. (A)

    The full practice guideline is available at the following link:
    http://www.jcaai.org/Param/immunotherapy/immunotherapy_pp.pdf

    Hope this was helpful, and let’s start a campaign to get more allergists in the UK, maybe get a celebrity spokesperson. Does Beckham have allergies?

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  3. Thank you for this very detailed and helpful comment. There are many doctors, nurses and two patient groups pushing for improved NHS allergy provision and the Dept of Health has, at least, recently (June 2006, review of NHS allergy services) admitted that there is a problem. But in the current climate of financial crisis it seems progress will be slow and piecemeal. Allergy doesn’t seem to be on the radar of healthcare policy makers here; in a system where funds are finite it seems always to lose out to conditions deemed to have more urgent claim on public money. Which is a bit of a shame, given that there is now good evidence that good allergy care in early life can prevent allergic conditions becoming more severe.

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