Tricking the body with a treat that, for some, can wreak havoc on the immune system. Imagine if you could erase your child's peanut allergy. It's an idea local researchers say may be possible.
They're tiny snacks that can cause big problems. Peanut allergies are responsible for up to 200 deaths each year in the United States. And thousands seek treatment following exposure that can lead to anaphylaxis -- or a severe allergic reaction that includes constricted airways, low blood pressure, even shock.
Dr. Paul Bryce, Northwestern Medicine, Allergy Researcher: "In the simplest terms, we are sticking these peanut proteins that people would normally react to onto the surface of their own cells."
The idea is to trick the body's immune system into thinking peanuts aren't a threat. By delivering peanut proteins via a blood cell, the allergen passes without triggering a reaction.
Dr. Bryce: "We think that's one of the key components of this response. That the immune system is seeing things in a very different way from how they would see if we had eaten or somehow been exposed to these proteins through normal ways."
Researchers drew blood from allergic lab mice. Peanut extract was then attached onto the white blood cells and re-infused back into the mice. After two treatments -- no allergic response.
Dr. Bryce: "From our research it looks as though that is then able to fool the immune system into thinking these are normal proteins and illicit that tolerant response that we should have to these proteins."
It's not a cure, but a critical step in understanding how to *turn off* the body's allergic response.
Dr. Bryce: "What we've tried to do is to put that tolerance back into place, but its not ignoring the peanut. Our immune system does see peanut, but it generates this toleragenic response."
The mice sustained a peanut tolerance for weeks. The next step will be to test how long it lasts, then possibly human trials.