Researchers making progress in helping people with severe food allergies

CREATED Sep 4, 2014

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MILWAUKEE - The first week of school is underway, which means kids are settling back into their classrooms and routines. For some kids, this routine includes the challenge of avoiding certain foods because of their allergies. 

 
Food allergies are on the rise nationally, and scientists across the country are trying to learn more about what causes allergies and what can be done to help people who have severe allergic reactions.  They're even studying the foods that cause allergic reactions.  
 
Scientists at the University of Chicago Medicine recently published a study that looked at food allergy responses and the type of bacteria found in the stomach and intestines.
 
"This was a study done in mice that showed if they modified the type of microorganism present in the gastrointestinal track, it influenced the type of immune response that they then saw to allergens in the mice," explained Chuck Czuprynski, professor and director of the Food Research Institute at UW Madison. 
 
He acknowledges that while this is a step in the right direction, it is only a step. 
 
"[These are] preliminary results in an animal model, so it is difficult to say how the results might extend to the human condition." 
 
Czuprynski does say that the research is significant, and that it shows it's possible that by changing the microorganisms in our GI tracts, our immune responses to allergens might be changed. But he cautions that this doesn't mean someone could just go to the doctor, get some medicine, and be cured. 
 
"The results of this study would not be something that would cure an allergy," he said. "They relate to the conditions that might result in development of an allergic response." 
 
Bacteria isn't the only part of the equation that scientists are looking at when searching for allergy solutions. There is research being done at North Carolina A and T State University and at the US Department of Agriculture that focuses specifically on peanut allergies.
 
But instead of trying to treat people already suffering from the allergy, scientists are focusing on the nut itself. By removing a protein, they've been able to lessen the severity of an allergic reaction.  They're basically trying to create an allergy-free nut.  
 
These studies will need further research, but it appears that researchers are making at least some headway in the fight against severe food allergies.