Nic West, an immunologist at Griffith University’s Menzies Health Institute Queensland, will be leading the phase-3 trial. The previous pilot study of the multispecies probiotic formulation, published last year, was seen to be successful.
Then, West’s team gave 44 adults with moderate to severe hay fever the probiotic twice a day for eight weeks. The patients were asked to report their symptoms and rate their quality of life.
“At the end of the study, 63% of the participants taking the probiotic reported a significantly improved quality of life,” said West at the time.
“In addition, the patients experienced less severe hayfever symptoms and required less medication.”
Hay fever, known by scientists as seasonal allergic rhinitis, is a chronic disorder of the upper airways caused by an overreaction of the immune system to pollen. It is a global health problem affecting between 10-30% of the population worldwide, and is increasingly prevalent.
The condition has a serious impact on quality of life of patients and presents a substantial financial burden to consumers and the healthcare system.
Although typically not life-threatening, hay fever can exacerbate asthma during extreme weather events, such as that seen in Melbourne in 2016, when nine sufferers lost their lives after a colossal thunderstorm.
Current treatment options, such as antihistamines, are costly, may not completely resolve symptoms and do not tackle the underlying cause.
“We are now investigating whether the probiotic formulation helps regulate the immune system, which in turn increases tolerance to hay fever-causing agents,” said West.
“We have already seen in various studies that probiotics can have benefits in regard to immune, gut and respiratory health. With these results relating to hay fever, although this is not seen as a ‘cure all’, it is great to see the reduction in symptoms alongside the absence of any adverse side effects.”
Live probiotic cultures are part of fermented dairy products, other fermented foods and probiotic-fortified nutrition. The best-known commercially available probiotics are found on supermarket shelves in the form of brands such as Yakult, or as over-the-counter pills in chemists and health food shops.
Speaking from his office in Brisbane, West said there has been a long history of research into eczema and probiotics, with studies showing some good outcomes.
One longitudinal study over 10 years found that infants who were given probiotics at an early stage of life seemed to have less eczema than their counterparts who didn’t consume probiotics.
“If kids who are potentially predisposed to eczema end up with a lower incidence, does that flow through to allergy and can we see this in adults?” he questioned.
“In our research, the fact we saw a positive outcome in our study last year means we are going to kick off a phase-3 trial in September.
“We have been talking about recruitment strategies and getting the message out that we are doing research in this area,” he added.
The team is now looking for 165 people from around Australia aged 18-60 who suffer from moderate to severe hay fever. They will be asked to take a probiotic supplement for up to eight weeks. Interested subjects should contact West’s team for details.
The goal of the trial is to pave the way for the probiotic formulation to be made available commercially, at a time when people are suffering from more allergies later in life. The strains used have not been named white they are in the hands of the university’s patent department.
“There is a real need for people with asthma or allergy to have it controlled, so probiotics may offer one strategy in that arsenal in those treatments,” said West.
“We know probiotics are safe, and that’s important for a lot of people who don’t like taking medications. On top of that, they may offer another mechanism or strategy by which to lower the symptoms and to have a potentially lower response to an adverse environmental circumstance, like a dust storm.”
Also on West’s desk is work researching lactoferrin immunoglobulins—antibacterial proteins that are derived from whey that are isolated and purified to help control eczema.
“We are doing quite a bit of work with the dairy industry in Queensland. The dairy industry has some potentially very large opportunities ahead of it to capitalise on the immune parameters that are contained within milk.
“It is critical, with the dairy industry at such a low ebb right now, to find new value-added dairy uses that can also benefit sufferers of conditions like these,” West added.