Antibody Triggered by Allergic Reactions Could Help Prevent Skin Cancer

An antibody triggered by allergic reactions could help stop skin cancer, according to a new study.

Scientists from Imperial College London published their early-stage research on Monday in Nature Immunology. They hope the findings could lead to new skin cancer treatments—and explanations for why allergies are increasing among children.

The Imperial College London team studied the antibody, or blood protein, Immunoglobulin E, called IgE. IgE triggers an allergic reaction in a person when it recognizes a safe substance as harmful. Someone might experience skin rashes, swelling, or trouble breathing. According to the Toxin Hypothesis, chemicals in the environment, like those from air pollution or tobacco smoke, could cause a rise in IgE as well as damage the skin. Damage to the skin could potentially lead to skin cancer.

These researchers believe that the blood protein has the ability to defend against environmental chemicals, and that's why it increases when someone comes into contact with those harmful substances. When IgE accumulates on the skin, the scientists say it can prevent damaged cells from turning into tumors.

EpiPens, the allergy treatment, lined up. The scientists hope new findings could lead to new skin cancer treatments—and explanations for why allergies are increasing among children. JIM BOURG/GETTY IMAGES

To test their idea, the scientists placed a toxic chemical on the skin of mice. As a result, IgE traveled to the area the chemical was placed. The scientists found the IgE lowered the chances of cancer developing on the skin.

Jessica Strid, the lead author on the study and senior lecturer at Imperial College London, said in a statement, "Our new work suggests IgE could protect against the damage caused by skin exposure to tumor-promoting chemicals or UV irradiation—and help fight against skin cancer."

The scientists also studied skin tumors of 12 patients that had squamous cell carcinoma, a common type of skin cancer. All of the tumors had IgE present. The team found that the less dangerous tumors had more cells with IgE in them, but the tumors that were higher risk had less IgE present. The scientists believe that this could mean IgE is preventing the cancerous tumors from progressing.

The team wondered if this could be an explanation for why allergies have increased in children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of reported food allergy increased 18 percent among children under age 18 years from 1997 to 2007.

"This is just the beginning of the story—our next step is to find out how exactly IgE may stop skin cells turning cancerous, and to see if we can somehow manipulate the allergic response to either protect against or treat skin cancer," Strid said.