Scientists from the Northwestern University in Chicago have come one step closer to developing a potential cure for peanut allergies, by creating an immune system tolerant to peanuts.
The researchers found that they can switch off potentially deadly peanut allergy attacks by tricking the immune system into tolerating nut proteins, and not seeing them as a threat to the body.
The study involved attaching peanut proteins to white blood cells, meaning the immune system would recognise the protein and become tolerant to it. The medical tests were conducted on rats, but allergy experts hope that it can be replicated in humans, too.
"Their immune systems saw the peanut protein as perfectly normal because it was already presented on the white blood cells,” says assistant professor Paul Bryce.
Researchers from the study, published in the Journal of Immunology, also discovered that these findings opened up to opportunity to create a balanced immune system, by increasing the number of regulatory T cells - the immune cells important for recognising peanut proteins as normal in the body.
“T cells come in different ‘flavours’,” says professor Bryce . “This method turns off the dangerous Th2 T cell that causes the allergy and expands the good, calming regulatory T cells. We are supposed to be able to eat peanuts. We’ve restored this tolerance to the immune system.”
Scientists also found that they were able to attach more than one protein to the white blood cells, meaning other food allergies such as fish and eggs, can soon be combated too.
"We think we've found a say to safely and rapidly turn off the allergic response to food allergies,” adds professor Bryce.