Sublingual immunotherapy - in which the immune system is primed by exposure to allergens in liquid concentrate form dripped and held for a few minutes under the tongue - is a very promising and safe new way of treating asthma, allergic rhinitis (runny nose) and other allergy-related conditions in all age groups, according to researchers at the Rabin Medical Center-Beilinson Campus. Writing in Harefuah, the Hebrew-language journal of the Israel Medical Association, Prof. Monda Iancovici Kidon and Prof. David Nelken note that conventional immunotherapy consists of injecting agents into the skin in increasing amounts and on a controlled basis; this causes the body's immune system gradually to produce antibodies and minimize the allergic response. The down side is that the injected allergens may cause side effects such as redness, swelling and pain at the injection site (which is especially difficult for children), nasal drip, constriction of the bronchi and even anaphylactic shock. The authors looked at numerous controlled studies of sublingual treatment published since 1985 and concluded that it has great potential in replacing injections, even though larger clinical studies are needed. The mechanism for sublingual therapy in which the allergen passes through the digestive system is not yet well understood, but it works. Published studies showed that sublingual immunotherapy was nearly as effective in minimizing allergies as injections. "There is no doubt that in the future the share of patients getting sublingual immunotherapy vaccines will grow," the researchers conclude. A ROSE IS A ROSE IS A .... ROSENBERG Most people don't like to think about body odor, but it makes Tel Aviv University microbiology Prof. Mel Rosenberg salivate. Now he is organizing "Odors in Microbiology: The First International Conference," in Ottawa, the city where he was raised, in May 2008. He wanted to do so in Israel but was told that because researchers fear going to the Middle East, it would not be a practical location. "There are thousands of scientists working on various problems related to microbial odors, yet because we are often in different disciplines and attend different meetings, we do not have the opportunity to benefit from one another's expertise. To begin to tie together all the microbiologists (and other scientists) working on odor problems, we've decided to organize the first international conference, with help from the Israeli conference organizers Target Conferences Ltd. Rosenberg recalls that Ottawa is home to the Experimental Farm, a place of both wondrous odors (from the fantastic flower collection) and awful stenches (from the animal farms). Ottawa is also home to the National Research Institute of Canada, and several leading universities. The meeting will host a cadre of experts in a wide variety of fields, says Rosenberg, who hopes to establish an international society of scientists interested in further pursuing their joint interests. He can be reached at email@example.com. DUST TO DUST The seemingly increased frequency of dust storms in Israel causes more than discomfort. These dust particles, transported by winds from the Sahara and other parts of Egypt and also due to industrial pollution, increases a person's risk for cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, according to a study in March in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Numerous studies have shown associations of chronic exposure to airborne particles and increased health risks. Recent evidence on adverse effects of particulate air pollution on public health has motivated the development of more stringent standards for levels of particulate matter in outdoor air in the US and other countries. Dr. Francesca Dominici of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore led a study to estimate the risk for cardiac and respiratory diseases from exposure to fine particulate air pollution. The researchers analyzed data from a national database for 1999 through 2002 on hospital admissions for cardiovascular and respiratory outcomes and injuries for 11.5 million people aged 65 and over who lived in 204 US urban counties. The researchers found there was a short-term increase in admission rates associated with exposure to particulate matter for all the health outcomes except injuries. The largest association was for heart failure. "In the lungs, particulate matter may promote inflammation and thereby exacerbate underlying lung disease and reduce the efficacy of lung-defense mechanisms. Cardiovascular effects may reflect neurogenic [arising in or stimulated by nerve tissues] and inflammatory processes," the authors write. NEVER TOO LATE TO GET IN SHAPE Getting "old and flabby" does not have to happen - at least the flabby part. Your muscle strength generally peaks in your 20s and starts to decline in your 30s. Some loss of muscle mass and strength, called sarcopenia, is common as you get older, and a rapid decline begins after age 60. This is dangerous, because lack of muscle tone and strength can lead to increasing difficulty with everyday tasks, decreased balance and increased risk of falls and decreased bone density. It may also slow metabolism, leading to weight gain. But the good news is that it's never too late to fight flabbiness, according to the March issue of Mayo Clinic Women's Health Source. Much, if not most, of the decrease in muscle mass that occurs with age appears to be related to reduced physical activity. If you exercise, you can maintain significant muscle mass well into your later years. Your doctor or a fitness expert can provide exercise options to strengthen all muscle groups. At home, exercises with elastic resistance bands, small dumbbells, elliptical exercise machines or even cans of vegetables can be effective. Weight training using equipment at a health club is beneficial, too.