Food allergies affect millions of Americans, some so severely that the merest trace of the offending food can be lethal. Sufferers have to watch not only everything they eat, but everything people around them are eating as well. The need for that type of hyper-vigilance may be at thing of the past. Northwestern researchers led by Stephen Miller and Paul Bryce may have found a way to circumvent the immune response to normally harmless food items.
The researchers attached peanut allergens to mouse leukocytes (white blood cells) and injected the cells into mice that had been bred to have life-threatening peanut allergies. Once attached to the mouse blood cells, the immune systems of the mice accepted the peanut proteins as benign. Later, when these same mice were fed peanut extracts, they did not go into anaphylactic shock like their untreated cohorts. A second test attaching egg-white protein to leukocytes was equally successful.
Food allergies aren’t the only illnesses caused by overly enthusiastic immune systems. Miller and his team have previously used this technique to halt the progression of autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, though only in animal models thus far. They suggest that this method can also be used to treat multiple allergies at once.