Food allergies are frustrating at best and life-threatening at worst, but scientists have developed an immunotherapy technique that can reverse allergic reactions in mice, and they think it could be used to treat allergies in humans, too.
The treatment works by triggering the production of new dendritic cells – cells signal to other immune cells to cancel their hyper-immune responses. This ensured that anaphylaxis, the most rapid and severe type of allergic reaction, did not occur.
“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,” said lead scientist John Gordon from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada.
Dendritic cells occur naturally in tissues that are in contact with the external environment, such as your outer layer of skin, and the inner lining of your nose, lungs, stomach, and intestines.
Gordon and his team exactracted some of these cells from mice, and exposed them to a unique mix of proteins, a vitamin A-related acid that occurs naturally in the human gut, and an allergen – peanut or egg white proteins.
When the modified dendritic cells were reintroduced to the mice, their allergic reactions were virtually eliminated – the sensitive immune cells that were previously set off by the allergic substance reacted as they would in healthy, non-allergic individuals.
While the technique has so far only been tested on mice, the researchers are hoping to progress to human trials within the next year.
“We have many people with allergies volunteering their own cells for us to use in lab testing to move this research forward,” said Gordon.
Effective treatment for allergies could transform the lives of millions – in the US alone, food allergies are estimated to affect up to 15 million people, with 1 in 13 children having some kind of allergy.
And the team thinks the research could also be applied to other diseases linked to the immune system, such as multiple sclerosis (MS).
“It would take very little to adapt the therapy for autoimmune diseases,” Gordon explains.