For about one in 13 children in the U.S., normally harmless foodstuffs such as milk, eggs and peanuts can send the body’s natural defenses into overdrive.
Symptoms of food allergies can vary widely, but at worst, a systemwide allergic response can lead to anaphylaxis, a life-threatening condition characterized by a sudden drop in blood pressure and difficulty breathing.
Although there are now some preventive measures for food-induced anaphylaxis, there are not yet any long-lasting solutions—treatments capable of locking the immune system into a state of tolerance, so that it doesn’t respond to allergens.
Now, a UCLA research team has developed a possible way to impart long-term relief from allergies by inducing an active state of immune tolerance.
The technology uses a nanoparticle—a particle so small that it’s measured on the scale of billionths of a meter—to deliver proteins to specific cells in the liver. Those proteins may trigger an allergic response in other organs in the body, but in the liver, they cause the targeted cells to activate a tolerant immune response that switches the allergic response off.
A report on the research, published in ACS Nano, indicates that the platform is effective in preventing allergic reactions to an egg protein when ingested or inhaled. The UCLA researchers also showed that delivering a single piece of a protein that triggers allergies is sufficient to ameliorate the allergic reaction.
“Huge numbers of people suffer from food allergies, amounting to billions of dollars in annual health care costs,” said co-corresponding author Dr. André Nel, director of the University of California’s Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology, or CEIN, and director of research at the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA. “Normally, asthma and anaphylaxis are treated with an EpiPen syringe as well as anti-inflammatory and immune-suppressive drugs that only provide transient relief. For the problem to go away long-term, we’re looking at the liver to reprogram the immune system to an actively sustained state of nonresponsiveness.”
The liver is an immune-privileged organ, meaning that it is programmed not to respond to foreign proteins called antigens, which can cause allergic or anaphylactic responses elsewhere in the body. The platform developed by Nel and his colleagues spurs the liver to produce regulatory T cells, cells in the immune system that can go everywhere in the body, to calm allergic responses to food allergens.
Image Credit: University of California, Los Angeles
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Thanks to Heinz V. Hoenen. Follow him on twitter: @HeinzVHoenen