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New study shows promise against peanut, other food allergies

A study by researchers Northwestern University Feinberg School Medicine achieved peanut tolerance.

A study by researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine achieved peanut tolerance.

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Updated: November 16, 2011 12:40PM

A new preclinical study is raising hope of a potential cure for peanut and other food allergies, having found a way to turn off a body’s life-threatening allergic response to peanuts.

The study by researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine achieved peanut tolerance by attaching peanut proteins onto blood cells and reintroducing them to the body — tricking the immune system into thinking the proteins pose no threat.

The approach, previously used to target autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes, was used for the first time, successfully, to target allergic diseases, researchers said.

Stephen Miller, professor of microbiology- immunology at Feinberg, and co-senior author of the study, published in the Journal of Immunology, said he hopes the procedure will lead to a cure.

“The initial data in the animal models is extremely encouraging and provides sufficient justification for going forward and really trying to bring this to human trials,” Miller said.

Peanut, shellfish and other food allergies can cause anaphylaxis, from which 100-200 Americans die each year, according to the National Institutes of Health, which funded the 2010 study.

Miller’s earlier published research showed the same body-tricking technique stopped progression of autoimmune diseases in lab animals, with a human clinical trial now ongoing in Germany.

Its use on allergic diseases is still years from human trial, his co-author in the study stressed.

“We’re excited about our findings,” said Feinberg assistant professor of medicine Paul Bryce.

“But this is not the cure for peanut allergies. We know there’s children and parents living with life-threatening peanut allergies, and I’d love to be able to say that,” he said. “But this is a preclinical study establishing on a mechanistic level something that could be applied to humans.”

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