This 12-year-old came up with an ingenious way to stop allergies before they start

Iris GuptaIris Gupta

Sixth-grader Iris Gupta wants to change how we treat one of our most annoying problems: Allergies.

The 12-year-old Maryland native is one of the 10 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge finalists for her work with nanoparticles and allergies.

The challenge is the “ultimate middle school science competition” for kids in grades 5-8 across the US. This year’s finalists worked on projects ranging from new ways to keep people from driving while intoxicated to devices that measure car temperatures.

Allergies are your immune system’s response to a substance that’s not harmful to other people. They’re the sixth leading cause of chronic disease in the US. 

Here’s how Gupta’s project works:

Typically, people treat the symptoms of allergies with antihistamines like Benadryl or Claritin. The medication inhibits histamines, the compounds our bodies release in response to an injury or allergen.

But Gupta wanted to figure out if there was a way to treat allergies before they ramp up.

She started looking into gold nanoparticles, which could block allergens from binding to the body’s Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies, a part of the blood responsible for fighting off allergens.

The nanoparticles, which are relatively inexpensive, could be injected or inhaled at the beginning of allergy season, and could stave off the inflammation and discomfort we experience when our IgE response gets initiated. Scientists have looked into the idea of using nanoparticles to stop allergies before, but more work needs to be done before they’re put into use.

Before she could really run with her idea, though, Gupta needed to figure out the right size of nanoparticle to use. She found that the best results came from those that were 20 nanometres in size.

The 20-nanometre nanoparticles matched up well with IgE, Gupta explains in her project video, preventing the IgE from acting up when an allergen entered the body.

Watch Gupta’s presentation to learn more about her work:

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