A person has food allergy if the immune system of the body has an adverse reaction to food proteins. These people are hypersensitive to certain ingredients of the food which are otherwise harmless for the general population. People who have this disorder, eating or swallowing even a morsel of the particular food can trigger symptoms such as skin rash, nausea, vomiting, cramping and diarrhea and in extreme cases it can bring about respiratory symptoms. In rare cases, a severe allergic reaction can prove to be fatal and is called as anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock.
Due to the severity of the situation and the increased reports of food allergies, scientists are trying to find means to prepare the body against food allergies so that people have better tolerance threshold to adverse reactions. As per statistics, there are more than 300,000 emergency room visits each year with food allergy killing around 100 to 200 of these patients.
Researchers have discovered that the first line of defense for a body’s immune system which is an immune cell called as lamina propria dendritic cells (LPDC), found in the gastrointestinal tract has special receptors called as SIGNR1. These receptors are found on the surface of the cells and bind to specific sugars. Scientists targeted these receptors and got sugar modified proteins to bind to them due to which the food proteins could not bind to them. Due to this the allergic reaction could not cause any serious harm to the patients.
In the current scenario, there is not cure for food allergies and the only way people could avoid these allergies was by ensuring that they refrain from eating food products that can cause allergy. Researchers believe that by avoiding the targeted proteins, our bodies will develop a new immune response due to which it would get over its allergy to proteins. So far, the study has been established at preclinical levels in mice. In future, scientists plan to do this research on people and hope to come up with similar results.
Researchers modified the proteins that caused allergic reactions in mice by adding some special sugars. The expected result was that when mice consumed these, the modified protein would bind to the SIGNR1 receptors on the immune system cells which at a later stage would help to develop food tolerance. This, they believed would help the immune system tolerate modified food protein such that the mice would no longer be allergic to even the unmodified forms.
The mice were segregated into two groups, group I that was fed modified proteins once for continuously three days and the other was controlled group (Group II). Post a period of 5 days; these two groups were fed unmodified proteins. In group II there were severe reactions such as tremors, convulsions and death while in group I there were mild reactions such itchiness and puffiness around the eyes and snout. This was because group I was partially desensitized to food proteins.
Researchers hope that based on this study, we may be able to train the human body to fight food allergies better.