Immunotherapy Provides Potential Treatment for Food Allergies

A novel immunotherapy technique was able to reduce anaphylactic response by 90% in mice with allergies to peanut and egg white proteins.

"This discovery reverses food allergies in mice, and we have many people with allergies volunteering their own cells for us to use in lab testing to move this research forward," said lead scientist John Gordon, PhD.

These findings could lead to clinical trials in as little as a year, with the approval of Health Canada.

“If we can reliably 'cure' food allergies, or related conditions such as asthma or autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis with this new therapy, it would be life-changing for affected individuals,” Dr Gordon said.

The immunotherapy involves creating a naturally occurring immune cell that signals the reversal of anaphylaxis, which then signals other reactive cells on the allergic pathway to turn off, according to a study published by the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

The key part of the treatment is dendritic cells, which are present in tissues and organs that come in contact with the outside world, and are an important component of the immune system. The scientists created dendritic cells in a test tube and exposed them to a mix of proteins that included an acid naturally in the stomach and an allergen.

In this study, the dendritic cells were exposed to peanut or ovalbumin proteins, so they developed a normal response to the protein. These modified cells are then reintroduced into the mouse models, according to the study.

The allergic reaction was nearly eliminated in these mice since their immune cells were now similar to those of individuals without allergies. The treatment was able to reduce symptoms of anaphylaxis, and reduced other protein levels in allergic reactions by 90%, the scientists reported.

“This discovery portends a major breakthrough towards a therapeutic reversal of food allergen sensitivity,” said Judah Denburg, MD scientific director and CEO of AllerGen, the company the researchers will collaborate with for further studies. “The treatment prevents anaphylactic responses in what were previously fully sensitive mice, opening the door for translating this therapy into the clinic.”

In Canada, an estimated 171,000 patients visited the emergency room from 2013 to 2014, and the severity of the reactions are also increasing. The scientists have previously found that they were able to reverse an asthmatic response in human cells with 3 applications of a similar treatment. The mice were cured of their asthma within 8 weeks.

“Even if we only cure 25% of subjects, we will dramatically improve the health of those individuals, and also reduce healthcare system expenses,” Dr Gordon said.

The scientists also said that this technique has the potential to treat incurable autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis.

“It would take very little to adapt the therapy for autoimmune diseases,” Dr Gordon concluded. 

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