5 July 2022

Clock ticks on a meat allergy treatment

The Back Page

Bitten by one of those bloaty blighters? Researchers have found a therapeutic target.


Your Back Page correspondent is vegetarian to a degree, though we don’t like to preach about it (did you know producing 1kg of beef produces 99kg of carbon dioxide?).

So the idea of a tick bite that makes the recipient allergic to mammal meat has always … tickled us, with apologies to any readers and their patients who have undergone this involuntary lifestyle change.

We’re not the first to have pondered an entirely hypothetical scenario in which determined activists engineer a mass inoculation of our species against meat-eating by means of these ticks.

But that’s not our news for today, alas.

Rather, Sydney researchers led by the Garvan Institute have looked into this unique (and sometimes life-threatening) immune reaction to the galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose (alpha-gal) sugar molecule and found some interesting things.

First, they believe humans developed alpha-gal sensitivity for good evolutionary reasons, probably to protect against infectious disease.

Lead author Professor Daniel Christ notes recent research on malaria showing that the the Plasmodium genus of microbe have an alpha-gal coating on their surface. A rapid immune response to alpha-gal, therefore, might protect against malaria by destroying the parasite in short order.

They also appear to have identified the antibody type that goes into battle (3-7), which may herald a future treatment.

It was recent news to The Back Page that our home state of NSW is a global hotspot for mammalian meat anaphylaxis (1800 cases reported) and that it was a Sydney allergy specialist, Professor Sheryl van Nunen, who first described the link to tick bites.

Ixodes holocyclus is the species of paralysis tick endemic to eastern Australia. The Back Page would include images of bloated, engorged I. holocyclus here to enhance your reading pleasure, but found ourselves developing such a strong and instant adverse reaction that we cut short the picture research and leave you, dear readers, to supply the imagery yourselves.

If you see some news that makes you itch, remove it carefully and keep it the hell away from penny@medicalrepublic.com.au.