Food Allergy Cure on the Horizon
It is estimated that up to 8% of the world’s population has some form of food allergy. The condition is more frequent among children than adults. This is problematic because the first exposure to a food allergen may cause an anaphylactic shock severe enough to endanger a child's life. The number of new food allergy diagnosis has been increasing steadily over the years; therefore, scientists are looking for solutions to mitigate the problem that already creates significant legal, public health and even logistical issues, beyond the potentially detrimental dietary restrictions incurred by individuals (nutritionally and/or financially). A breakthrough done at the University of Saskatchewan, in Canada, might hold the key to completely eradicate food allergy.
Hacking the immune system
Making use of ingeniously lab-grown dendritic cells, which were then integrated into a mouse's immune system, scientists managed to prevent allergic reactions when exposing the animal to food allergens. The novel technique helped reduce observable anaphylactic symptoms by almost 90%, while also reducing allergy marker proteins.
Dendritic cells play a fundamental role in the mechanism that triggers immune responses. In food allergy, these cells have an abnormal antigenic response to foods, thus, causing an immune reaction. As such, scientists tried to 'hand-tailor' dendritic cells that do not respond abnormally to the foods that the mouse was previously allergic to (peanuts and egg white protein).
The cells are essentially programmed to prevent the triggering of the whole immune chain that responds to allergens. According to Dr. Judah Denburg, this is a serious step forward in food allergy treatment. Given the increasingly more frequent diagnosis of the condition, this type of solution will become extremely important in the future. Its impact on the public health and economics could be massive.
Innovative immunotherapy for more than food allergy
Although this study focused on peanuts and ovalbumin, the technique can be easily adapted to other food allergens. In fact, one of the authors of the study—allergy specialist John Gordon—highlights that this immunotherapy also has the potential to treat other autoimmune disorders, such as multiple sclerosis or asthma. Gordon and his team plan to collaborate with more scientists from other research and educational institutions throughout Canada: AllerGen, Queen's University, University of Alberta and others. More thorough testing of the technique is necessary before the first human trials get green light. For now, scientists hope to test it on mice artificially endowed with the immune system of a food-allergic human.