Veterinarians might soon have a new, high-tech "tool" to help treat seasonal equine dermatitis caused by insect bites: clones.

By cloning certain proteins found in insects, scientists hope to collect abundant and easily accessible quantities of allergens that could help produce a cure through immunotherapy, said Huub Savelkoul, PhD, professor in the cell biology and immunology group at Wageningen University in The Netherlands. The process has already helped them develop accurate diagnostic testing for the itchy allergic reaction scientists call insect bite hypersensitivity, or IBH.

IBH generally is not life threatening but can be very uncomfortable for horses due to severe itching, Savelkoul explained. “Currently there is no curative treatment available for IBH, while the need for a treatment is high,” he said. The only existing treatments for IBH are prevention (such as insect sprays, insect sheets, and stabling during peak insect hours) and topical steroid or antihistaminic creams, which don’t always appear to be helpful, Savelkoul said.

“The welfare of affected horses is seriously reduced, and the owners of such horses encounter increased costs due to attempts to control the itch, while the commercial value of the horses is reduced," Savelkoul said. "Severely affected horses sometimes even have to be euthanized.”

On the cutting edge of research for IBH treatment is immunotherapy, which works by treating horses with medicine based on the insects the horses are allergic to. It’s not the insect itself, or even the bite, that itches. It’s the allergen—a protein manufactured