Curing Allergies By Presenting the Allergen With Blood Cells

Allergies are a pretty significant and growing health issue. There exist treatments for allergies, but nothing quite like an easy cure. It looks like a team from Northwestern University may have done just this, by attaching peanut proteins to a subject’s blood cells and reintroducing it into them, signaling to the immune system that these proteins are non-harmful.

From Science Daily:

Peanut allergies often cause life-threatening allergic reactions, called anaphylaxis. Each year there are between 15,000 and 30,000 episodes of food-induced anaphylaxis and 100 to 200 related deaths in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health. There is no safe treatment to protect people from a severe allergic reaction to food.

When an allergic person eats a peanut, the proteins are absorbed through the intestine and can activate a life-threatening, full-body immune response. This includes constriction of the airways, low blood pressure and/or shock and can lead to loss of consciousness and death.

Using a mouse model that mimics a life-threatening peanut allergy (which the Northwestern team developed several years ago), researchers attached peanut proteins onto white blood cells called leukocytes and infused those back into the mice. After two treatments, the mice were fed a peanut extract. They did not have the life-threatening allergic reaction because their immune system now recognized the protein as safe.

“Their immune system saw the peanut protein as perfectly normal because it was already presented on the white blood cells,” Bryce said. “Without the treatment, these animals would have gone into anaphylactic shock.” Bryce thinks more than one protein can be attached to the surface of the cell and, thus, target multiple food allergies at one time.

They also tried this with a different allergen model (an egg protein), and it worked then too. Wiping out (food) allergies would be quite an achievement; let’s hope this idea works. The idea itself seems somewhat intuitive, but I assume it’s only coming to light now because there are less obvious hurdles to overcome. 

If it seems like extracting and modifying each person’s blood to use this technique is a little inconvenient, it may not be the final form of the technique:

For autoimmune diseases and allergic airway diseases, Miller also is working with microparticles rather than white cells to induce tolerance, because the microparticles are more easily standardized for manufacturing.

Mass-produced immunity! Doesn’t get better than that. Which reminds me, go get vaccinated this flu season. 

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