A Seattle-based research team announced an exciting new breakthrough for patients suffering from all types of allergies. After seven years of blood screenings, the team was able to find differences between the blood of subjects who suffer from allergies and the blood of allergy-free subjects.
More specifically, the study published by the Benaroya Research Institute was able to distinguish between a unique, previously unknown immune system cell that causes allergies and the normal TH2 white blood cells that help fight infection. This is the first time that scientists have been able to pinpoint the exact cause of allergic reactions in the body, and differentiate between “good” white blood cells and those that cause reactions.
• According to the CDC, allergies are the sixth-leading form of chronic illness in the US, affecting 50 million Americans per year and costing over $18 billion.
• The prevalence of food and skin allergies in children has increased since 1997, according to another CDC report.
• While scientists knew that allergic reactions were an issue with the immune system, it’s only recently that they were able to find a biologically-distinct cell in allergy patients that causes the reactions.
How this could help people with allergies
While this discovery may not have an immediate impact on the lives of allergy patients, it does open up a wealth of new possibilities for treatment and early detection, and could have a life-changing impact on patients in the future, especially patients suffering from peanut allergies.
One way the discovery can have an impact is through early detection through blood tests; rather than waiting for a potentially life-threatening first experience with the allergen, children can know to avoid certain foods based on the presence of the abnormal cell in their blood. This also spares parents from a terrifying trip to the hospital when their child discovers a life-threatening food allergy for the first time.
Possible new treatments
What’s more, it also opens up the possibility of treating or curing certain allergies through treatment of the blood. Erik Wambre, author of the study, expressed optimism about the breakthrough in an interview with the Seattle Times, saying, “My hope is that we might find a drug that will specifically destroy the cells, or at least stop them.” The possibility of targeting and removing these allergy-causing cells from the body could have life-changing benefits for people suffering from serious food allergies and was especially effective with the group of patients suffering from peanut allergies.
Studies on allergy-causing cell removal
The National Institute of Health awarded the team a $5 million grant to continue their work. Now they plan to focus on effective treatments that remove the allergy-causing cells, which the team labeled TH2A cells. Dr. Wambre, the study’s author, was also one of its subjects, using immunotherapy techniques to relieve his seasonal grass allergies.
This technique was especially effective for the group of patients suffering from peanut allergies, exciting news for many. The group study was small and experimental, though, and in its early stages. For now, patients will have to await further testing before the team can determine whether the treatment is effective.
In the meantime, if you or a family member suffers from a peanut allergy, the Nima Peanut Sensor is an extra tool to test your food for trace amounts of peanuts. It allows users to quickly test their food for allergens, and provides extra peace of mind at restaurants or on-the-go. Learn more about the Nima Peanut Sensor here.