Food allergies are common in the United States and affect close to 9% of the US population. Common causes of food allergies are milk, shellfish, and peanuts, to name a few. While many food allergies cause mild to moderate allergic reactions, such as a runny nose or a rash, some food allergies can lead to severe, life-threatening reactions. Anaphylaxis is term that defines a serious, and life-threatening allergic reaction with symptoms that include trouble breathing, vomiting, low blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, and cardiac arrest. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control, food allergies are the most common cause of anaphylaxis outside the hospital setting.
Currently, treatment for anaphylaxis includes an immediate injection of epinephrine (also known as adrenaline). Individuals who have severe allergies and are at-risk for an anaphylactic reaction are advised to carry around auto-injectors of epinephrine, also known as epi-pens, with them at all times. And besides total avoidance of foods that trigger the allergies, patients are left with few other options.
Now, researchers from the Indiana University School of Medicine have discovered a new drug compound that may help prevent peanut-allergy induce anaphylaxis. The research on the drug compound was published earlier this month in the journal Science Translational Medicine. The scientists developed a covalent heterobivalent inhibitor (cHBI) that can specifically bind to a protein on the peanut allergen which prevents it from causing an allergic reaction. The researchers tested this inhibitor in immunodeficient mice that are capable of displaying anaphylactic reactions. The researchers injected the mice with just a single dose of the cHBI compound, and then repeatedly exposed the rodents to peanut allergens over the course of two weeks. Remarkably, the mice who were injected with the cHBI displayed no allergic reactions and, importantly, none suffered a fatal anaphylactic episode.
Nada Alakhras, a graduate student and researcher on the study said, “The inhibitor prevented allergic reactions for more than two weeks when given before allergen exposure. The inhibitor also prevented fatal anaphylaxis.” And while the inhibitor has only been tested in mice, the researchers believe that the drug has the potential to be an effective preventative measure for people who are severely allergic to peanuts.
Sources: Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology; ACAAI; Science