Cliff Han, owner of startup company Knoze Jr. Corp., said he can now enjoy the outdoors allergy-free due to his prebiotic lollipop, which nurtures bacteria in the body to combat allergies. Photo by Kirsten Laskey/ladailypost.com
One evening in March 2014, Los Alamos resident Cliff Han was attending a retreat and started to tear up during a talk.
He went outside for a break, but more tears arose accompanied by sneezing and a tightness in the chest. He realized his tears were not in fact caused by the speaker’s moving story, but by the pollen from the surrounding trees.
Until that time, Han had lived in Los Alamos allergy-free for 17 years. But those times were no more, and Han said he fought against his allergies for many years.
So, began the journey to fight back, a journey that would eventually lead to the founding of the startup company Knoze Jr. Corp. Han was at this point working as a biologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and had been a doctor in China.
The most difficult symptom to deal with was his nose congestion, Han said. Many nights became sleepless ones. And even worse, his allergies grew from seasonal to year-long. He investigated what might be the cause of the allergies. Han said his surroundings remained relatively unchanged, so he reasoned it must have been something inside him that was the cause.
Han listed things that might be to blame: food, weight and his genes, to name a few. But the most drastic change he had made just before developing allergies was concerning his oral hygiene. Han said he figured the combination of excessive oral hygiene and antibiotics likely had changed his oral microbiota, leading to hypersensitivity of the immune system. As a result, Han made a hypothesis and laid out a research plan.
However, Han lost his research funding and was transferred to another operational division at the Lab. He said all his efforts to secure a fund failed and therefore he decided to continue the study in his spare time and with his own money.
Han said he began to collect samples of his saliva periodically, until spring 2017. The first episode of his year-long allergies lasted for a year and half and ended in the summer of 2015. It became seasonal soon afterward.
While suffering from year-long allergies, Han said he experimented with refraining from oral hygiene practices for several weeks. Local moderate periodontitis developed as well as bleeding and gum recession, yet allergy symptoms persisted. Regularly brushing and flossing for two weeks healed the inflammation, while the allergy symptoms continued. Soon he settled into a routine of brushing his teeth once a day without toothpaste. His allergy symptoms were alleviated during two trips abroad, which lasted four to eight weeks each, but never completely disappeared before the summer of 2015.
A small subset of saliva samples collected both before and after the summer of 2015 were tested in a pilot study in early 2016. A discovery later deemed false indicated that several bacterial genera, which were relatively abundant in later samples were completely missing in “before” samples.
In order to trace the source of those bacteria, his family members were asked and agreed to give saliva samples. These samples were sequenced in a second attempt and analyzed using a commercial service from the company Novogene.
The results of the sample analyses disproved the results from the pilot study. Further experimentation indicated something was wrong in the analyzing process of the pilot study. Han said he was disappointed and sat on the results for a couple of months. Then he came back to them, intending to close the study and see if there was anything he missed. The group comparison showed that two bacterial genera became more abundant in saliva samples collected after summer 2015. These bacteria also were more abundant in his family members without allergies.
Using these findings, a prebiotic mix was developed in the form of candy. It contained different kinds of sugars, amino acids and other nutrients, which intended to promote the growth of select bacteria. Han said he took the prebiotic mix several times a day in the middle of March 2017, at which time his allergies were most severe. His allergy symptoms were alleviated significantly, and he did not have to take any other medicine. However, this reprieve was temporary, and he had to take the mix several times each day for continued relief.
Five days later, Han developed a fever, likely due to some sort of infection. His fever was between 100-102०F. On the second day of the fever, he noticed that his tongue was completely red and there was an absence of the usual biofilm. He hypothesized that his fever or infection had cleared the micro-ecospace in his oral cavity and produced a unique opportunity for restructuring his oral microbiota. He took two pieces of the prebiotic mix as soon as his fever receded three days later. The next day his allergy symptoms had been alleviated without the use of additional medicines or further applications of his prebiotic mix.
The recipe was then patented and used in producing Knoze Jr. Prebiotic Lollipops.
“I hope it will help many people who are in a similar situation,” Han said.
In addition to selling his prebiotic lollipops on Amazon, Han plans to rent a space at Santa Fe Place during the weekends to sell his product and distribute information about it.
“The whole process of starting a business has been significant,” Han said. “It changed me quite a bit.”
Han describes himself as a quiet person but has found a purpose and mission through his new business. Starting a business is a whole new endeavor for him.
“I like it,” Han said. “There’s a lot I have to learn … it’s a bit of an adventure.”