Understanding how nutrition influences the immune system is the current focus of my career, but that wasn’t always the case. Fresh out of graduate school, I began my career as an immunologist with a desire to know how the immune system functions at the molecular level.
The relationship between cat diet and cat allergens, which affects one in five adults globally, was not on my radar until my professional career collided with my personal life—when my wife and I learned our two-year-old daughter at the time—was sensitive to cat allergens.
She always wanted a cat, but due to her sensitivities, we were unable to have one. I wondered, how many others had to limit their interactions with the cats they love?
My new hope was to find a way for millions of cat lovers, like my daughter, to be able to experience the joy of being closer to the cats they love. I joined Purina as an immunologist before my daughter was born, a profession not usually associated with a pet food company, and embarked on a journey of scientific discovery
At Purina, I saw the opportunity to develop a nutritional immunology platform where we scientifically demonstrate how nutrition could positively impact the immune system. As a pet food company, we weren’t seeking a direct treatment for human allergies. We focused on researching if there was a way to reduce cat allergens through pet food. At Purina, I saw the potential to apply scientific rigor to find the answer.
As the lead researcher on the project, I worked alongside Purina scientists, nutritionists and veterinarians for over a decade to come to an exciting conclusion. Yes, pet food could in fact play an important role in helping manage cat allergens.
We learned that a protein in cat saliva called Fel d 1 is the major cat allergen—not the hair or dander. When cats groom, Fel d 1 gets on the hair and skin through the saliva, and ultimately into the environment. Nearly 14 years later, we have achieved my hope and developed a pet food called Pro Plan LiveClear.
Launching in April, LiveClear safely neutralizes the Fel d 1 protein in cat saliva. The key ingredient is a specific protein sourced from eggs. When cats eat the food, the ingredient binds to Fel d 1 and safely neutralizes it in the cat’s mouth.
By reducing active Fel d 1 in the cat’s saliva, we lessen the amount of allergens transferred to the cat’s hair and dander when they groom. This ultimately lowers the allergens in the environment and doesn’t affect a cat’s overall physiology. Cats who eat LiveClear will continue to produce allergens and shed as normal.
Our research shows the allergen reduction through the cat food works. When LiveClear is fed daily, it significantly reduces the allergens in cat hair and dander in as little as three weeks. In a published study, 86 percent of cats had a 30 percent reduction, 50 percent had a 50 percent reduction, and on average there was a 47 percent reduction of active Fel d 1 on cats’ hair starting with the third week of daily feeding.
It’s important to remember that while Pro Plan LiveClear is a wonderful new tool to help manage cat allergens, it’s not the only answer. Since this isn’t a human drug, we can’t guarantee any specific human benefits. What we can say, however, is that we are hopeful that pet owners can now be closer to their cats.
The fact is, life is not always easy for people with cat allergen sensitivities. A survey we conducted with the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) showed that 37 percent of households with sensitivities to cat allergens have had to change their lifestyle to accommodate their cat, a significant increase over those without sensitivities (22 percent).
Professionally, I’m excited to see how this breakthrough product helps cat lovers be close to their cats. Personally, I’m grateful that my daughter, now 14, may have a chance to finally experience this special, loving bond.
BIO: Dr. Ebenezer Satyaraj is the lead Purina investigator on the research for cat allergens. He currently serves as director of molecular nutrition at Nestlé Research Center in St Louis, Missouri. Dr. Satyaraj has authored numerous scientific papers in the areas of cellular/molecular immunology and cytokine biology.