WEDNESDAY, April 11, 2018 -- An experimental peanut-allergy vaccine proved effective in mice, researchers say.
The vaccine protected allergic mice from reactions such as itchy skin and breathing problems when they were exposed to peanuts two weeks after their final vaccine dose, according to the University of Michigan researchers. The vaccine is administered by nose in three monthly doses.
The researchers said their approach activates what they called a new type of immune system response that heads off an allergic reaction.
"We're changing the way the immune cells respond upon exposure to allergens," lead author Jessica O'Konek said in a university news release. "Importantly, we can do this after allergy is established, which provides for potential therapy of allergies in humans."
She said that "by re-directing the immune responses, our vaccine not only suppresses the response but prevents the activation of cells that would initiate allergic reactions."
O'Konek is a research investigator at the university's food allergy center.
Ongoing studies aim to learn how long the vaccine might protect against peanut allergies, but the researchers are optimistic that the approach will lead to long-lasting allergy suppression.
The investigators plan further studies in mice in order to learn more about how food allergies are suppressed.
However, the results of animal studies often don't produce similar results in humans.
"Right now, the only [U.S. Food and Drug Administration]-approved way to address food allergy is to avoid the food or suppress allergic reactions after they have already started," O'Konek said. "Our goal is to use immunotherapy to change the immune system's response by developing a therapeutic vaccine for food allergies."
Senior study author Dr. James Baker Jr. said food allergies are fertile ground for study.
"Food allergy has exploded in prevalence and incidence, but we still know so little about it because there hasn't been that much research in the field," he said in the news release.
Baker is director of the university's food allergy center and is CEO of Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), which provided funding for the study.
"This research is also teaching us more about how food allergies develop, and the science behind what needs to change in the immune system to treat them," he added.
The study was published April 11 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more on peanut allergy.
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