Allergy Vaccine May Take Fear out of Nuts

By Helmuth, L. | Science News, April 3, 1999 | Go to article overview

Allergy Vaccine May Take Fear out of Nuts


Helmuth, L., Science News


An experimental vaccine mitigates the worst effects of peanut allergies, at least in mice. The DNA-based oral vaccine immunizes the animals against a peanut protein that otherwise can kill them.

Food allergies are becoming more common and more dangerous (SN: 9/7/96, p. 150). Between 100 and 125 people in the United States die each year of allergic reactions to peanuts or true nuts, says Wesley Burks of the Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock.

A further price of a peanut allergy is eternal vigilance. Peanuts pop up in many unexpected places, such as egg roll wrappers, chili fillers, and protein extenders in cake mixes. Once sensitized by exposure to peanut proteins, someone with a severe allergy may react the next time with hives or a swollen mouth and throat. In the most serious response, respiratory distress called anaphylactic shock, the person may die unless immediately given a shot of epinephrine.

Kam W. Leong and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore successfully vaccinated mice against peanut allergens, they report in the April NATURE MEDICINE. The mice had been bred to develop peanut allergies. Once sensitized, the mice react to the same peanut proteins that allergic humans do, one of which is called Arah2.

To make the vaccine, the re searchers created balls of two molecules: the peanut DNA that encodes Arah2 and a compound called chitosan, which is found in crustacean shells. …

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