Could there be a cure for food allergies?
Researchers from the University of Saskatchewan have created a new immunotherapy technique that virtually eliminates food allergies.
Across Canada and around the world, allergic reactions to foods have become a major health concern, with the rate of hospital visits for anaphylaxis having skyrocketed over the past decade. About 2.5 million Canadians self-report having food allergies, with yearly visits to emergency rooms for allergic reactions totalling 171,000 for 2014, a 95 per cent increase over 2006 numbers, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information.
Now, in a study recently published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology researchers have shown that a new immunotherapy technique can help switch off the body’s hyper-active response to certain allergens. So far proven successful in reducing anaphylaxis symptoms in mice by up to 90 per cent, the new technique involves immune cells called dendritic cells which were exposed in a lab to allergens (peanut and egg white protein) and then reintroduced into mice.
Dendritic cells work as signposts alerting the body’s lymphocytes (B- and T-cells) to form attacks against dangerous materials in the body such as toxins, viruses and cancer cells. The new approach creates dendrites which express a tolerance for allergens, effectively shutting down the body’s trigger response. “Our data indicate that regulatory dendritic cell immunotherapy can be effective for food allergies and suggest that induction of Foxp3− regulatory T cells might be a useful strategy for tolerance induction in this context,” say the study’s authors.
An exciting prospect for those suffering from food allergies, the results also indicate a possible line of treatment for combatting autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. “If we can reliably ‘cure’ food allergies, or related conditions such as asthma or autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis with this new therapy, it would be life-changing for affected individuals,” says Dr. John Gordon of the University of Saskatchewan’s Department of Medicine and co-author of the study.
Immunotherapy has fast become the new frontier in medicine, as scientists and medical practitioners learn more about how to effectively enlist the body’s own defences in fighting disease.
For the first time, the United States Food and Drug Administration has approved an immunotherapy drug as a first-line treatment for lung cancer, meaning that some patients will be able to use immunotherapy drugs without first having to take other treatments such as chemotherapy. The drug, marketed by pharmaceutical company Merck as Keytruda, is a checkpoint inhibitor drug which supports the body’s immune system by preventing cancer cells from weakening immune responses.
“We always talk about the three pillars of cancer therapy — radiation therapy, chemotherapy and surgery — and it’s become quite clear now that there’s going to be a fourth pillar, which is immunotherapy,” said Dr. Philip Greenberg, head of immunology at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, recently at an International Cancer Immunotherapy Conference in New York City.
“Immunotherapy has essentially undergone a sort of revolution in the last decade,” said Dr. Greenberg, “in the sense that something that was experimental — and there were still questions about what role it would have in the way cancer is treated — is completely turned around, and now it’s clear it’s effective.”