Aerobiology (Athanasios Damialis, PhD)

Global Increase in Airborne Pollen Concentration

The scientific field of studying airborne particles is called Aerobiology. Its focus often lies on allergenic particles, i. e. pollen and fungal spores (aeroallergens). There is an increasing Platanus flower with polleninterest in Aerobiology because the ongoing climate change is affecting both plants and funges. Consequently, changes have been observed in the production and dispersion as well as in the allergenicity and other properties of pollen and fungal spores. In particular, pollen have been exhibiting a worldwide increase in airborne concentrations and, parallel to the latter, exacerbations in allergic diseases' frequency and severity has been documented.

The Aim is a Real-Time Allergen Monitoring

Our Aerobiology team at the Institute of Environmental Medicine (IEM), UNIKA-T, under the guidance of Professor Claudia-Traidl-Hoffmann, aims at:

1) Ongoing monitoring of pollen and fungal spores from all plants and fungal taxa respectively. This is conducted at the finest scale possible - viz. at two-hour intervals.

2) Investigation of interactions between aeroallergen concentrations and meteorological factors, with a special focus on the elaboration of aeroallergen circulation patterns and forecast models of their concentrations.

3) Developing real-time, reliable, and accurate aeroallergen measurements, which will be the basis of future evaluation of environmental risks associated with prevalent allergic symptoms.

Pollen (flower) head (photo: IEM)

Pollen (flower) head (photo: IEM)

A Fully-Automated Pollen Monitor in Action

The ultimate goal is to define thresholds of those risk factors beyond which allergic symptoms may occur. All the above aims are achieved via the use of traditional methods (volumetric particle trapping, Burkard pollen trap) plus cutting-edge infrastructure (automated pollen sampling, Hund trap). Corresponding forecasts will be achieved by a combination of aerobiological, meteorological, phenological (flowering), biological (experimental designs), clinical (patients symptoms) and otherwise collected data.

One of the most innovative research aspects is the use of cutting-edge automated pollen samplers. This provides our team with real-time and fine-scale pollen counts for the majority of pollenmonitorthose allergenic pollen types which are detected in the air. Relevant gauging results refer only to daily pollen counts at the moment, usually with a time lag of at least a week. Hence, pollen exposure of allergic patients cannot be fully avoided in advance and the current medical and pharmaceutical treatment is only partly effective.

The use of above technology and its combination with traditional research findings will allow for timely, economical, efficient, and effective dissemination of the relevant data. It will furthermore guarantee the best possible management of allergic diseases by aiming at a prophylaxis rather than a follow-up treatment of patients.

Pollen Monitor (photo: IEM)

Pollen Monitor (photo: IEM)

Seven Activities for the Goal Achievement

This prophylaxis will be achieved by a series of activities, provisionally (but not limited to) as follows:

1) Full time operation of an automated pollen sampler.

2) Full time operation of two traditional aerobiological stations at ground and rooftop levels and at the finest scale possible at present - viz. at two hour intervals.

3) Combining aerobiological data with other environmental and experimental data (e. g. vegetational, meteorological) and constructing spatial and temporal forecasting models of allergenic pollen atmospheric circulation.

4) Combining environmental with medical data (e. g. symptom scores) and determining the sensitization thresholds for every pollen type and affected area.

5) Developing real-time risk alerts and information on dissemination areas via multiple channels, e. g. the UNIKA-T and TUM websites or news agencies.

6) Producing informative leaflets for an increase of public awareness - both of officially involved institutions and organizations (hospitals, health ministry etc.) and of course of the allergic patients and their physicians respectively.

7) Developing personalised cutting-edge IT technologies, mainly in the form of mobile apps, which will then inform allergic patients on the environmental risk of pollen exposure at their area either automatically or on request.

Ongoing Control and Maintenance

In order to optimize the reliability and efficiency of the novel methods above, an investigation for differences in pollen counts between traditional volumetric sampling and automated pollen sampling will be conducted first. The obtained results from both sampler types will be compared and each one´s reliability verified.

Possibly occurring differences will be investigated in a qualitative (which pollen types) and quantitative analysis (how many pollen grains per type). In case of discrepancies, calibration and improvement of the respective sampler(s) will be conducted with an emphasis on the accuracy and timeliness of the obtained gauge results.