Results of New Study Offers Potential Clues About How Peanut Allergy Emerges
Why do some children develop a peanut allergy and others don’t? Researchers trying to answer this crucial question in order to learn how to prevent this life-threatening food allergy believe that being exposed to peanuts through skin early in life could be a determining factor.
Researchers at the Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, St. Thomas’ Hospital in London, looked at the blood cells of children with peanut allergy and compared them to children who are not allergic to peanuts. They keyed in on the immune cells that respond to the peanut allergen, and learned that these lymphocytes appear to carry a surface marker – an “address” offering clues about where the peanut allergen was first encountered. They found different markers depending on whether the exposure occurred through the skin (environmental exposure) or through the gut, and learned that the marker for skin was associated with a peanut allergy diagnosis.These findings were published in the March issue of Allergy, the European Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. The study was funded in part by the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network’s competitive Research Grant Program, which has awarded more than $5 million since 2004 to scientists advancing research in the field of food allergy.
“FAAN played a crucial role in supporting this novel research study, which is consistent with the hypothesis that the route of exposure affects whether peanut allergy develops,” said Gideon Lack MD, professor of pediatric allergy at King’s College London and one of the authors of the study. “Skin exposure may be linked to peanut allergy, while eating peanuts early may protect from peanut allergy. This study supports a growing body of work on preventing peanut allergy and is in line with the hypothesis of the LEAP study, the outcome of which may influence strategies to prevent peanut allergy.”
Lack is principal investigator of the ongoing Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP) study, which is looking into the question of whether eating peanuts in infancy makes the immune system tolerant or sensitive to peanuts later in life.
“Can you imagine being able to prevent children from developing a life-threatening allergy to peanut? That is the incredible promise of this important study,” said FAAN CEO Maria L. Acebal.
Between 0.6 percent and 1.3 percent of individuals in the US have peanut allergy, which is the food allergen most associated with fatal cases of anaphylaxis. It is estimated that only 20 percent of people who are allergic to peanuts will outgrow their allergy.
For more information about food allergy, please visit foodallergy.org.