O'Hehir - Allergy Laboratory

2015. L-R - Back row: Dr Jade Jaffar, Dr Jodie Abramovitch, Dr Sara Prickett, Professor Robyn O'Hehir AO
Front row: Neeru Varese, Kirsten Deckert, E/Professor Jennifer Rolland, Anita Hazard, Tracy Phan

Research Overview

Allergic diseases, including asthma, rhinitis and eczema, represent a major health burden worldwide.  Mainstay treatments are allergen avoidance where feasible and pharmacotherapy for symptom relief.  For selected patients, allergen-specific immunotherapy offers the prospect of long lasting clinical efficacy.  However, application of this potentially curative treatment is restricted, largely due to the risk of serious adverse events, especially in asthmatics and for potent allergens such as peanut and seafood.

Major research areas of the Allergy Research Laboratory include characterising the nature, immunoreactivity and cross-reactivity of clinically important allergens, elucidating underlying immune mechanisms and developing novel therapeutics for allergic diseases. The research scientists and students in the Allergy Laboratory are well supported by strong clinical links ensuring clinically relevant and targeted research.

Selected Research Interests and Projects

Development and clinical trial of a novel T cell epitope-based peptide therapy for peanut allergy

Sara Prickett, Jodie Abramovitch, Kirsten Deckert, Jennifer Rolland, Robyn O’Hehir AO

Peanut allergy is a life-threatening condition for many affected individuals world-wide. There is currently no cure. While whole allergen extracts are routinely used in specific immunotherapy for many respiratory and insect venom allergies, they can cause severe side effects and even fatalities in the case of peanut allergy. Early phase clinical trials, including research data previously generated and patented by our Allergy Laboratory, demonstrate that short, T cell epitope-based peptides that target allergen-specific CD4+ T cells without triggering adverse IgE-mediated reactions are effective for allergen-specific immunotherapy for cat, house dust mite and grass pollen allergies. With support from the Medical Research Commercialisation Fund, the NHMRC, the Australian Food Allergy Foundation and the Alfred Hospital Trust we identified the optimal candidate peptides from the major peanut allergens Ara h 1 and Ara h 2 for a T cell-targeted peptide immunotherapy for peanut allergy. Following successful peptide stability and toxicology studies, a Phase I double-blinded and placebo-controlled trial of our peanut allergy therapeutic has commenced to evaluate the safety and tolerability of single and repeated administration across a wide range of doses to determine an appropriate dosing regimen.

Allergy researchers helping the Chinese community breathe easier

Neeru Varese, Kirsten Deckert, Mark Hew, Celia Zubrinich, Jennifer Rolland, Robyn O’Hehir AO

The Chinese community in Melbourne are disproportionately affected by grass pollen hay fever. The Num Pon Soon Charitable Trust provided funding for a research study on hay fever treatments and the results could change the way we all breathe. In supporting this research, The Trust has made a significant contribution to the Chinese as well as the broader community in addressing this significant problem with a substantial socioeconomic burden.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 25% of the world’s population currently suffer from allergic respiratory conditions such as hay fever. Most of us will know a sufferer, or even suffer ourselves from hay fever, particularly in south-eastern Australia, where we have large areas of grasslands and northerly spring winds. Alfred/Monash-led research is evaluating the impact of an oral tablet that dissolves in the mouth before swallowing, as an alternative to “allergy shots”. The trial is now in its final immunological and clinical evaluation stage. This study could pave the way to relief for the large number of Chinese people who develop grass pollen hay fever in Australia.

The identification and characterisation of the major allergens in Australian crustacean species

Neeru Varese, Jodie Abramovitch, Robyn O’Hehir AO, Jennifer Rolland in collaboration with Andreas Lopata, Sandip Kamath and Roni Nugraha, James Cook University, Queensland

The increase in prevalence and potential fatality of food allergy has led to increased efforts to find more specific diagnostic assays as well as effective therapies and prophylactic measures. More than 90 percent of allergic reactions can be attributed to exposure to foods, including fish and shellfish. The shellfish group includes crustaceans (prawns, lobsters, crabs) and molluscs (oysters, mussels, abalone). Very few shellfish allergens have been characterised on a molecular level. In this project, we are performing a detailed characterisation of the shared and unique allergens of different shellfish species to accurately predict clinically significant cross-allergy among the different groups. The effects of food processing (eg heating and digestion) on allergenicity of shellfish proteins is also being determined. This research will inform the development of a microarray diagnostic for shellfish allergy leading to improved diagnosis and management of these patients.


Pubmed (O'Hehir)


O’Hehir RE, Holgate S and Sheik A (Eds). (2016) Middleton’s Allergy Essentials. 1st Edition. Elsevier. ISBN 978-0-323-37579-5

Borg BM, Thompson BR, O’Hehir RE. (2014) Interpreting Lung Function Test: A Step-by-Step Guide. 1st Edition. Wiley Blackwell (on line 12 July 2014) ISBN 9781118405512

Adkinson F, Bochner B, Burks W, Busse W, Holgate S, Lemanske R, O’Hehir RE (Eds)(2014) Middleton’s Allergy: Principles and Practice 8th edition. Elsevier.ISBN 9780323085939