Scientists Edge Closer to Effective Peanut-Allergy Vaccine

(CN) – Suppressing peanut allergies – which can be dangerous and occasionally fatal – with a vaccine may be a step closer reality, according to the results of a new study.

The report, published Wednesday in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, shows that a new nasal vaccine can turn off peanut allergies in mice.

Three monthly doses of the vaccine shielded mice from peanut-induced allergic reactions with no visible side effects.

“While this research is still only in the preclinical phase, we are really excited by the results showing just three doses of the nanoemulsion vaccine was able to significantly suppress allergy-associated immune response and confer protection from reactions to exposure to peanut,” lead author Jessica O’Konek told Courthouse News in an email.

The study, which was funded by the Department of Defense and the nonprofit organization Food Allergy Research and Education, stems from the nearly two decades of work by University of Michigan researchers to develop a vaccine agent.

The new vaccine shows that immunizing allergic mice can redirect how their immune cells respond to peanuts. Inoculation activates a different form of immune response that prevents allergic symptoms.

“We’re changing the way the immune cells respond upon exposure to allergens,” said O’Konek, a research investigator at the Mary H. Weiser Food Allergy Center at the University of Michigan. “Importantly, we can do this after allergy is established, which provides for potential therapy of allergies in humans.

“By redirecting the immune responses, our vaccine not only suppresses the response but prevents the activation of cells that would initiate allergic reactions.”

The mice reacted to peanut allergies with effects similar to those seen in affected humans, experiencing symptoms that included trouble breathing and itchy skin. The report examined protection from allergic reactions two weeks after the final dose of the vaccine was administered.

While studies to determine duration of protection are ongoing, the team is encouraged that the vaccine will produce long-lasting allergy suppression.

The findings move the vaccine a step closer to being tested in a human clinical trial down the road.

“Right now, the only FDA-approved way to address food allergy is to avoid the food or suppress allergic reactions after they have already started,” O’Konek said. “Our goal is to use immunotherapy to change the immune system’s response by developing a therapeutic vaccine for food allergies.”

O’Konek says the team hopes to have the vaccine ready for clinical trials in the next 5 to 10 years.

“The nanoemulsion vaccine adjuvant by itself (not containing peanut) has already passed safety studies in humans as part of a trial using it as a vaccine for influenza,” she said.

The next steps include additional studies in mice to enhance the scientific community’s knowledge of the mechanisms responsible for food-allergy suppression and to determine whether protection from peanut allergies can last longer.

“Food allergy has exploded in prevalence and incidence but we still know so little about it because there hasn’t been that much research in the field,” said senior author James Baker, director of the Mary H. Weiser Food Allergy Center and CEO of Food Allergy Research and Education.

“This research is also teaching us more about how food allergies develop and the science behind what needs to change in the immune system to treat them.”

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