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Small amounts of honeybee venom can help immune systems, say Scientists

A study co-financed by the Austrian Science Fund has found that administering small amounts of honeybee venom can sometimes help immune systems later protect against more severe doses of venom.

Testing on mice, scientists at Stanford University found that when the venom was administered, certain antibodies formed in the blood that were then able to offer protection against higher amounts of the venom. The findings support a controversial hypothesis from the early nineties about the role of antibodies in protecting the body against toxic substances.

According to the 'toxic hypothesis' proposed by Margie Profet in 1991, the body can build protection against toxic substances using IgE antibodies and allergic reactions. However, until these experimental findings, there was no evidence to substantiate this claim.

Interestingly, the results from the Austrian funded study contrast to the experience of those people who respond differently to bee venom, experiencing multiple allergic reactions or anaphylactic shocks after repeated contact. These are believed to be caused by certain antibodies, called 'IgE-type antibodies', in the blood.

When these antibodies were removed from mice strains however, their immune system could not project itself against the venom. This provides initial evidence to support the claim that these antibodies can have a positive effect on some immune systems.

Thomas Marichal, is co-first author of the research, said: "In our view, the assumption that the function of IgE antibodies is limited to triggering allergic reactions always fell short of the mark. Otherwise, IgEs would surely have been eliminated in the course of evolution, a consideration that also underlies the so-called toxin hypothesis."

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