Do you love seafood but avoid it because of an allergy to fish or shellfish? Or more seriously, perhaps you have an allergy to peanuts, and if you want to prevent a severe allergic reaction
you must be cautious when eating out at restaurants – or even getting a near a Snickers bar? Well, you may not have to worry about that much longer, if science has anything to say about it! Researchers have announced that they have successfully "turned off" a few food allergies in mouse models, and are working to begin clinical testing on humans.
This recent study was led by Paul Bryce, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of allergy immunology, and Stephen Miller, a professor of microbiology immunology. Both scientists are from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and together they co-authored the resulting paper, which was published online in the Journal of Immunology
. How Does it Work?
In order to “shut off” the allergic response in a body to say, peanuts,
researchers attached the peanut's proteins onto white blood cells called leukocytes. These white blood cells play a vital role in the immune system, leading attacks on foreign bacteria that might threaten the body, such as illnesses, infections or disease.
Then, the newly combined cells and proteins were reintroduced into the body. As a result of this, the white blood cells (with the peanut proteins attached) basically tricked the immune system into thinking that the peanut proteins are safe, thus effectively disabling any future allergic reactions. Because of this newfound acceptance to the peanut proteins, the immune system becomes stronger, and regulatory T-cells can multiply and add to the benefit.
The researchers from Feinberg tested this technique on mouse models that had life-threatening peanut allergies. After infusing the mice with the peanut protein and leukocyte combination twice, the team then fed the mice a pure peanut extract. Amazingly, there was no sign of an allergic reaction, and the mice could now safely and freely eat peanuts. Food Allergies are Nothing to Mess Around With
People who suffer from a food allergy
, or have family members that suffer, know that they can cause life threatening allergic reactions if not careful. This allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis,
occurs when the allergen food's proteins are absorbed through the intestine and trigger a full body allergic response. This immune response can rapidly lower blood sugar that could lead to shock; cause constricted airways that end up reducing or disabling breathing; and can even cause loss of consciousness and finally, death. While this might seem exaggerated to those fortunate enough to not have such allergies, over 20,000 cases of anaphylaxis are reported each year, resulting in over 200 deaths annually. There are no effective treatments against food-related anaphylaxis except exercising caution.
While clinical trials on humans may still be some time away, it is exciting to know that perhaps in the near future one will be able to finally eat that peanut butter sandwich they've always desired, or enjoy a dinner at their town's best seafood restaurant without any potential for danger.