Poison ivy may not be a hazard of summer much longer. At the University of Mississippi, researchers have developed a once-a-year treatment that could prevent or reduce the allergic reaction to poison ivy, poison oak, and sumac. For those not protected, a single dose might diminish the symptoms when a rash appears.
The rash is caused by an immune response to an oily mixture of compounds, called urushiols, found on the leaves of the itch-inducing plants. Mahmoud A. El Sohly and E. Sue Watson, who is now at Rust College in Holly Springs, Miss., synthesized a less toxic form of the molecules that, when injected, effectively desensitizes a person to poison ivy and its cousins.
Ole Miss--which forecasts a market of at least $200 million annually--has licensed the drug to Stiefel Laboratories Inc. in Coral Gables, Fla. The dermatologics company hopes to begin human trials within a year.