March 1, 2012

WEIRD SCIENCE: Peanut Problems

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There is always that kid. He or she is allergic to almost everything. Whether it’s nuts, gluten, or soy, it seems like that kid has no fun at all. Though no one in my family has any major allergies, they often affect me. My four cats, for example, are never a crowd pleaser for “those people.” It seems that since there are so many allergies, scientists would have a thorough understanding of many of them, yet currently, this is not really the case. According to the National Institute of Health, in the US, alone, there are 15,000 to 30,000 anaphylaxis episodes each year, and about 100 to 200 deaths.

The word “allergy” was first used in 1906, by Viennese pediatrician, Clemens von Pirquet after he noticed that substances such as dust, pollen, or certain foods were causing certain symptoms in his patients. But where do these allergens come from? Almost anywhere. They can be found in the environment, in food, or in various drugs, and according to the Surrey Allergy Clinic in London, allergies are either inherited or developed through exposure to allergy causing environments.

In other words, allergies are mostly unpreventable, and until recently, there have been no treatments. Scientists at Northwestern University have discovered a way to potentially trick the immune system into turning off the allergic response for peanuts that could potentially be used for other allergies as well. Like an immune system spy, the peanut protein “disguises” itself as a native, attaches to a blood cell and is reintroduced to the body.  The body then welcomes the blood cells and builds immunity to the allergen. By increasing the number of regulatory T cells it also, the body improves the patient’s immune system.

Though this treatment has been proven to work in mice, it has yet to reach clinical trial. But maybe some time in the near future, this promising method could make a difference for “those people.”

Samantha Klasfeld is a sophomore in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. Weird Science appears on Fridays.

Original Author: Samantha Klasfeld