February 13, 2023 - Podcast

Episode 345 — Peanut allergies

Researchers from Indiana University School of Medicine have found a way to block anaphylaxis caused by peanut allergies. The groundbreaking discovery could lead to life-saving therapeutics for people with severe peanut allergies.

According to Food Allergy Research and Statistics, approximately 32 million people in the United States have a food allergy, and every three minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room.

There are treatments for symptoms in patients with food allergies, but few preventive therapies other than strict dietary avoidance or oral immunotherapy says Mark Kaplan, chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology and senior author of the study. He says neither of those options are successful in all patients.

When someone is allergic to a food, it is a result of allergen proteins cross-linking allergen specific immunoglobulin E on the surface of mast cells – a type of white blood cell found in mucosal tissues like airways and intestine -- and basophils – both types of white blood cells defend against allergens, pathogens and parasites but are also involved in the appropriate response to allergens. Activation of mast cells and basophils can lead to anaphylaxis, a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction that can occur very quickly after exposure to an allergen.

Researchers developed peanut-specific inhibitors that successfully blocked mast cell or basophil degranulation and anaphylaxis in an animal model. Degranulation is the process by which mast cells release mediators into the environment that cause itching, swelling, and redness.

The inhibitor prevented allergic reactions for more than two weeks when given before allergen exposure, says Nada Alakhras, lead author and a graduate student in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. The inhibitor also prevented fatal anaphylaxis and reduced the severity of allergic reactions when given soon after the onset of symptoms.

The researchers say their finding show the inhibitor, which has yet to be tested in human patients, has the potential to be an effective preventative for peanut-specific allergic responses in patients.