May 24, 2024

Researchers Develop Guidebook to Identify Elusive B Cells for Allergy Research

Scientists at McMaster University have developed a comprehensive instruction manual to aid researchers in the detection of hard-to-find B cells. The team, led by Ph.D. student Alyssa Phelps and Assistant Professor Josh Koenig from the Department of Medicine, aimed to investigate the presence of these cells in order to gain insights into food allergies. Their findings were recently published in the journal Nature Protocols.

B cells are a type of immune cell responsible for producing antibodies that combat diseases such as cancer and infections. However, they can also contribute to the development of autoimmune disorders and allergies. The primary challenge associated with studying these B cells lies in their rarity, making it difficult to identify them effectively. Koenig explains, “One of the big problems with trying to study these B cells… is that they’re really, really rare. It’s hard to find them. And so, you have to have very good tools that will help you study these things.”

To overcome this obstacle, the researchers adopted a method initially devised by Justin Taylor, who currently operates the Taylor Lab at the University of Virginia. Taylor’s approach involves using antigen tetramers to precisely label and enrich specific B cells, thereby facilitating their detection.

Tetramers are composed of four antigen molecules that can be tailored by scientists for various applications. The range of customization is extensive, encompassing everything from peanut-specific B cells to those targeting COVID-19. Having utilized this technology in multiple studies over the years, the team decided to compile their experiences into a protocol paper aimed at assisting other researchers in the study of these crucial B cells.

Beyond enhancing our comprehension of allergies in humans, tetramers can also be employed to examine the effectiveness of vaccines. Koenig and his team recently collaborated with McMaster researchers Matthew Miller, Brian Lichty, and Zhou Xing to determine if their vaccine candidate activates protective COVID-specific B cells.

Now that these protocols have been published, researchers worldwide will have the necessary tools to advance their scientific investigations, remarks Taylor.

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