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Clinician News

Jack Jumper Ant Travel Scholarship

11 July 2019

Adriana Le, Clinical Immunologist/Allergist, recently travelled to EAACI, Lisbon (1-4 June 2019) after receiving a travel scholarship to present work completed on Basophil Activation test (BAT) in a Jack Jumper Ant (JJA) venom clinical trial that SA Pathology is currently participating in at the Royal Adelaide Hospital.

The Jack Jumper Ant is putting up to two South Australians a week into hospital emergency rooms, some with potentially fatal anaphylactic shock.

The native hopper ant (Myrmecia pilosula), also known as the jack jumper, packs a painful sting from its tail — but for a significant proportion of people the consequences can be much greater.

According to Emeritus Professor Bob Heddle, and recent past Chief Pathologist at SA Pathology, “From GPs’ referral patterns, the ants appeared to be responsible for about 30 to 40 per cent of insect-related anaphylactic shock in the state.”

This was less than bees but around 10 times more than cases caused by Paper wasps and European wasps.

In some cases, people had been forced to sell their home and move out of the areas where ants were found. But there is light on the horizon, with SA Pathology developing and validating a diagnostic test for JJA allergy with Thermo Fisher Scientific, which has been available since 2010.  SA Pathology continues to be the only laboratory in Australia to offer this test, and continues to actively work with Thermo Fisher Scientific to improve the quality of this test. 

However, there is no allergy test to predict whether subsequent treatment has been effective, other than a live ant sting challenge.

Initiating a research project (JumpBAT) in 2017, and receiving grants from both the Heath Services Charitable Gifts Board (HSCGB) and Allergy and Immunology Foundation of Australasia (AIFA), SA Pathology assessed the diagnostic and therapeutic monitoring usefulness of basophil activation testing (BAT) for JJA allergy. Basophils are allergic cells which circulate in the blood, while BAT is able to assess the ‘activation’ of these cells upon mixing with JJA venom.

Subsequently, preliminary findings from the JumpBAT project were presented at the 2019 European Academy of Allergy and Immunology (EAACI) conference, with results demonstrating that JJA BAT had comparable or better sensitivity than previous testing, and allows for avoidance of invasive JJA venom skin testing.

“Importantly, the results show that BAT is a robust test which can be customised to diagnose allergy, especially those which are uncommon or geographically localised and for which previous testing may not be commercially available,” says Dr Pravin Hissaria, Clinical Immunologist and Immunopathologist, Senior Staff Specialist, SA Pathology / Royal Adelaide Hospital.

With an anticipated completion date of end of 2020, SA Pathology hopes to provide potential insights in the near future regarding the prognostic value of BAT for monitoring treatment effectiveness in JJA allergy.