Blood test for subtropical grass allergies

This allergy blood test project is meeting the need for better diagnosis and treatment for subtropical grass pollen allergy.

Head Researcher Dr Janet Davies
Team Members
  • Ms Victoria Timbrell, UQ SoM,
  • Ms Christina Hage, MSc student, SCMB,
  • Mr Chin Cangmah, Graduate Diploma of Molecular Biology, SCMB
  • Dr Daman Langguth, Sullivan Nicolaides Pathology
  • Mr Lindsay Riebelt, Sullivan Nicolaides Pathology
  • Ms Claire Simmonds, Sullivan Nicolaides Pathology
  • Assoc Prof William Smith, Royal Adelaide Hospital
  • Dr Graham Solley, Watkins Medical Centre, Qld
  • Prof John Upham, PAH, Som
  • Dr Andrew McLean-Tooke, Fremantle and Sir Charles Gairdner Hospitals, WA
  • Assoc Prof Sheryl van Nunen, Royal North Shore Hospital
  • Assoc. Prof Peter Smith, Queensland Allergy Services
  • Prof Robyn O’Hehir, The Alfred Hospital
  • Dr Kerstin Wall, Thermofisher, Sweden
  • Dr Michelle Hill, UQDI
  • Prof Ian Godwin, UQ School of Agriculture and Food Science (SAFS)
  • Dr Bradley Campbell, UQ SAFS
  • Dr Edward Gilding (UQ IMB)
Body Part Nose and skin
Equipment Used Chromatography
Process Used Advanced molecular and bioinformatics techniques
Research Areas Allergies
Disease Allergic rhinitis, Asthma 
Tags Diagnosis, blood tests, immunotherapy, vaccine, allergy, allergic rhinitis, hay fever, allergic asthma IgE, grass pollen, allergen, multi-allergen array, allergen component, sub-tropical, diagnostic, proteomics, transcriptome, allergome, bioinformatics
Commercial Partnerships Sullivan Nicolaides Pathology (Australia), Abacus ALS (Australia), Thermofisher (Sweden), Stallergenes (France)
Institutions UQ various, 6 hospitals, 4 commercial partners, Queensland Allergy Services, Allergome in Italy

Grass pollens are the major outdoor aeroallergen globally and the primary illness caused by pollen exposure, allergic rhinitis, affects 500 million people worldwide. Whilst allergen specific immunotherapy “vaccines” are an effective treatment that reduces symptoms and progression to more severe disease (eg asthma), there are currently no standardized tests or treatments for subtropical grass pollens. Dr Davies' research has revealed primary sensitisation to pollen of subtropical grasses (eg Bahia and Johnson grass) in patients from subtropical regions. Importantly, her team has demonstrated that allergic responses of these patients show species-specific IgE and cellular immune recognition of the dominant allergen components of Bahia and Johnson grass pollens, indicating the need for better diagnosis and treatment for subtropical grass pollen allergy.

They have now discovered, using advanced molecular and bioinformatics techniques, all the allergen components of the Panicoideae subfamily of grasses.

The discovery of the complete allergen repertoire of Johnson grass pollen (awarded European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology prize) was published in the top-ranked, field-leading Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (JIF12). Application of these discoveries for specific tests and therapies have been protected by a series of patent applications, including one accepted for grant in Australia this year. With NHMRC Development Grant funding, extensive enabling in kind support and close collaboration with industry partners Sullivan Nicolaides Pathology (Queensland), Abacus ALS (Australia) and ThermoFisher (Sweden), the team has now developed an extremely sensitive and specific blood test for accurate diagnosis of Bahia grass pollen allergy (Area under the Receiver Operator Curve of 0.96). The test is based on measurement of specific IgE concentrations to the major allergen component of Bahia grass pollen, Pas n 1. 

These research outcomes have the potential to improve the accuracy of diagnosis and efficacy of treatment for patients primarily allergic to subtropical grass pollens. This Pas n 1–IgE test, alone and in combination with further subtropical grass pollen allergen component tests under development, will enable a more quantitative, differential diagnosis of subtropical grass pollen allergy. These outcomes are intended to reduce the high medical and economic burden of healthcare and lost economic productivity attributed to allergic rhinitis and its adverse impact upon asthma. 

Discussions are underway with the international leader in immunology diagnosis, regarding the commercial potential for clinical use of this test as a single point component resolved diagnostic and within a multi-allergen array platform to improve the specificity of allergy diagnosis in Australia and other regions with a subtropical climate (including a large US market). Further NHMRC Development funding is sought for component resolved therapies for subtropical grass pollens. Several global leaders in the business allergen immunotherapy are engaged in consultation, and collaborative research with Dr Davies' team, to resolve the need for optimised allergy vaccines targeting subtropical grass pollens.

Within the TRI, Dr Michelle Hill (UQ-DI) collaborates on proteomic identification of allergen components and Dr Ray Steptoe (UQ-DI) is establishing murine models of pollen induced allergic airway inflammation that will identify the allergen components required for an effective subtropical grass pollen allergy vaccine in future.

Translational Research - Milestone T2

A multi-centre clinical survey is underway to determine effectiveness of blood test in diagnosing allergic reaction to subtropical grasses.  Ultimate aim is to develop a vaccine to prevent the allergic reaction. 


Dr Janet Davies