One nut closer to a vaccine

10/12/2010

Key components for a safe and effective vaccine to treat peanut allergy have been identified by researchers at The Alfred and Monash University.

The research, led by director of the Department of Allergy at The Alfred, Professor Robyn O'Hehir, has identified fragments of peanut protein that are big enough to interact with the immune cells of the body, and build tolerance, but not big enough to cause anaphylaxis. 

"These dominant fragments are the best candidates for a peanut allergy vaccine." Robyn said.

Immunotherapy is commonly used to treat people who are allergic to wasp and bee stings.  There, protein extracts from the venom are given in increasing doses to desensitise the individual and prevent anaphylaxis when individuals are stung. 

"Until now, peanuts have been regarded as too dangerous an allergy-provoker to try immunotherapy, however the latest discovery overcomes this problem."

The researchers are confident that their approach will translate to clinical trials within three years, as their grass allergy research was recently taken to trial by a British company.

Robyn said similar vaccines for cat allergy are already benefitting patients in the northern hemisphere. 

"The Alfred's allergy research is leading the way, and our approach to harness T-cell tolerance and prevent peanut allergy is equally innovative," Professor O'Hehir said.

Peanut allergy is the most common cause of life-threatening food reactions, including anaphylaxis.  At present there is no prevention for food allergy, and anaphylaxis requires immediate treatment with an Epipen to deliver adrenalin.

The research is supported by the Ilhan Food Allergy Foundation, and has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology