Several years ago, a team of researchers from Northwestern University devised a type of treatment to prevent certain autoimmune diseases. Now, they’ve turned their attention to another type of immune response that affects tens of thousands of people across the country every day—food allergies.
In a paper recently published in the Journal of Immunology, Paul Bryce and company have successfully turned off peanut allergies in mice genetically designed to have adverse reactions to the delicious legume.
That’s right, a peanut isn’t a nut. It’s a legume. What do you mean you don’t know what a legume is? Think lentils, beans and peas. Sheesh.
The trick of the treatment is to attach a peanut protein onto blood cells and reintroducing them into the body. You see, every cell has a unique set of molecules on its surface that other molecules can bind to. There are several different types of cells in the body that can attach to these signature structures in order to identify them as friend or foe. In an allergic reaction, the T-cells in the body don’t recognize harmless proteins and cells as being less dangerous than Richard Simmons. In the treatment, the scientists attached peanut proteins onto white blood cells called leukocytes and infused them back into the mice. This allows the white blood cells to properly identify the peanut proteins as mostly harmless.
The result? The mice didn’t have an allergic reaction when fed peanut extract. The study doesn’t mention if this is a one-time-treats-all type of thing, or something somebody has to take on a regular basis to keep the body recognizing the good stuff. However, they do mention that they believe they can attach many types of proteins onto the white blood cells, effectively treating several food allergies at the same time.
So for the 30,000 episodes of food-induced anaphylaxis and 200 deaths per year in the United States alone, this is pretty big news.
It’s also big for those of us who know how much better chili is with a bit of peanut butter in it. Yums.