Pollen Harvesting: Fighting Fire With Fire

How farmers and doctors work together to relieve the suffering of those with allergies.

By Tharran E. Gaines | Photos By Jason Dailey

<< See the full story, “Harvesting Pollen: Nothing to Sneeze At”

As the co-founder of the Asthma Center and a board-certified specialist in allergy and immunology, Dr. Don Dvorin deals with pollen every day. Not only does he treat patients who are dealing with the effects of pollen in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Mount Laurel and Woodbury, New Jersey, he is also certified as a pollen and mold spore counter.

Ragweed on the Sneed farm.

Ragweed on the Sneed farm.

Consequently, Dvorin spends a portion of each morning collecting glass slides from his pollen spore traps; placing the slides under a microscope, and literally counting pollen spores to determine a number that represents the number of pollen grains per cubic meter of air. That information is then posted on the center’s website (www.asthmacenter.com). It’s also reported to both the Philadelphia Examiner newspaper, which prints the forecast each day, and the National Allergy Bureau (http://www.aaaai.org/global/nab-pollen-counts?ipb=1), which compiles pollen reports from throughout the U.S., Canada and Argentina.

“I’ve actually been a pollen collector since I was in medical school,” he relates. “It’s just something I’ve always enjoyed doing.”

Dr. Dvorin also benefits from farmers like Jim Sneed who commercially harvest pollen for the pharmaceutical companies. As Dr. Dvorin explains, the pollen Sneed collects is subjected to a process that removes the proteins from the spores and suspends them in liquid form for use in allergy testing and immunotherapy (allergy shots). The latter, he explains, is a series of shots that contain a specified amount of pollen proteins, which expose the patient to small quantities of allergens to stimulate their immune system.

“The purpose of the shots is to build up the patient’s antibodies, or their defense cells,” he explains, noting that they work similar to a flu shot or other vaccine. “This increase in the number of antibodies, in turn, helps the body not overreact when exposed again to these same allergens.

“The process involved in taking pollen from the field and extracting the proteins is really quite interesting,” he continues. “Even though there is still no cure for allergies, there are ways we can diminish allergy symptoms.”

You might say that using pollen to combat pollen allergies is a little like fighting fire with fire.