The Killer Peanut May Have Met Its MatchEver since I was in grade school, I would be reminded I was not allowed to bring in snacks to share if they had any peanuts in them. There was always at least one classmate that had a peanut-allergy. This very dangerous condition has been a growing trend, affecting hundreds of thousands of children in the United States alone. However, thanks to researchers at Northwestern University, anaphylaxis (or a life-threatening allergic-reactions) may be a thing of the past.
In the past, peanut-allergies have often been combated through a method called immunotherapy, which has people with the allergy ingest very small doses of peanuts until they begin to built up a tolerance. Though it has had some success, this approach has not proven to be very affective.
Instead of pushing and expanding immunotherapy, the researchers decided to take a new approach to the problem. Using the technology that has previously been used for autoimmune diseases, Dr. Stephen Miller and Dr. Paul Bryce have begun to explore other, much more successful ways to treat the allergies.
Through his work with autoimmune diseases, Dr. Miller had developed a strong foundation to understand the relationship between white-blood cells and the immune system. He used this previous knowledge on combating autoimmune diseases, which attack healthy white blood cells, by introducing new cells, and theorized that allergies could work similarly. He took an area that he had expertise in, but applied it to a different problem.
First using mouse models, Dr. Miller and Dr. Bryce began to attach the proteins found in peanuts to white blood cells, then inserted those cells into previously allergic mice. Days later, the mice were fed peanuts; and every starred at the mice astonished as they gobbled up the tasty treat without any signs of allergic reaction. Because the mice's immune system now recognized the protein, the body was able to accept the peanuts.
Dr. Bryce commented that this discovery was especially ground-breaking, because there are many different allergen proteins that could be attached to the white blood cells at one time. This would allow for multiple allergies to be treated. They even tested this theory, introducing a protein into the cells that simulated an asthma attack. In this study, mice's lungs did not become inflamed after inhaling the protein. This is shown in the image below.
Therefore, Dr. Miller, Dr. Bryce, and their colleagues did not find a solution for just peanut allergies, they found a potential solution for all allergies. The largest obstacle for this approach however, is the great amounts of time and energy needed to extract white-blood cells from the blood. But they have been exploring alternatives to white-blood cells, like synthetic cells that can be produced in a laboratory. The trouble with that is getting the body to accept the cells and not reject them as foreign and dangerous intruders.
Though there is still more to be done, this amazing and creative solution is a break-through for schoolgirls like me, schoolgirls that just want to bring in peanut butter cookies to share with the class.