New Study Indicates Hope for Peanut Allergy Sufferers

Researchers at Northwestern University have successfully tested mice with a method to suppress allergic reactions to peanuts

Photograph courtesy of Flickr user EuroMagic

For the approximately three million Americans allergic to peanuts, that PB & J might not seem so scary in the near future.

Researchers at Northwestern University think they’ve found a way to turn off allergic responses for those suffering from peanut allergies—one of the most common food sensitivities, according to a paper published in the Journal of Immunology. In the study, researchers used mice in a test that was developed to mimic a life-threatening peanut allergy. Peanut proteins were attached to the animals’ white blood cells and then injected into the mice.

The mice were then fed peanut extract. They didn’t suffer an allergic reaction, since their immune systems now recognized the peanut protein as safe, researchers say.

The study holds hope for human patients with food allergies. Approximately 1.1 percent of the US population—mostly children—suffers from peanut allergies. Most can experience anaphylactic shock if they ingest or come in contact with the food, which can lead to swelling, difficulty breathing, heart failure, and even death. Anaphylaxis accounts for approximately 100 to 200 deaths in the US each year, and a peanut allergy is the most common culprit of food-allergy-related deaths.

Researchers are optimistic that this tolerance-building approach could work for other food allergies, as well. In a second part of the study, an egg protein was introduced into the mouse blood cells. The mice, who should have experienced an asthma-like attack, had no allergic reaction, suggesting that the method may not be specific to peanuts, but could also be applied to many types of food allergies.

Previously, this technique was used in treating autoimmune diseases in humans, including multiple sclerosis and Type 1 diabetes.

For more information, read the full study here.