The world’s first food allergy vaccine could soon be a reality, with scientists in north Queensland studying proteins in fish, shellfish and eggs which cause adverse reactions.
James Cook University’s Molecular Immunology Research Group is developing food allergy treatments at the facility’s Molecular Allergy Research Laboratory.
Professor Andreas Lopata is analysing the molecular structure of proteins which cause allergic reactions to 40 different types of fish, many of which are consumed in Australia.
The aim is to modify the proteins so can they be used as therapeutic agents, or a vaccine.
“Immunotherapy, or therapy to food allergens, you can imagine almost like a vaccine, so it’s not acute treatment like an epi-pen,” Professor Lopata said.
“This treatment is further in advance.”
Because of the varied allergenic protein make-up in animals and food, different vaccines would need to be developed for the different types of fish and foods.
But Professor Lopata said the first could be developed within four years.
“That would be the first [in the] world because nothing is available commercially right now,” he said.
“We should have really very good early translation of our finding in food diagnostics.”
Researchers developing allergy tests
The analysis is also being used to create a way to test which specific fish people are allergic to.
Professor Lopata said current diagnostics were based mainly on cod, which was not commonly consumed in Australia.
“That means patients [are] coming in with clearly some kind of allergy to fish but it’s not clear to which type of fish — so if it’s cod, if it’s hake, if it’s barramundi or if it’s mackerel,” he said.
Blood samples and information from more than 200 children with fish allergies are being taken at Westmead Children’s Hospital in Sydney to help develop the comprehensive test.
Professor Lopata said the test could be ready within two years.
“[It would] help clinicians and practitioners to really assess a patient properly,” he said.
“People think fish allergy is not very common but we have 200 children, over 200 children actually, having some type of allergy to fish.
“We are helping now developing new diagnostics because the current ones are very difficult to use in a way that they’re often false negatives.”
The research, funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council, is now being expanded to look at other foods, with researchers also focussing on developing immunotherapy for shellfish and eggs.
The council recently granted another $318,768 to the university for further research and development.