Researchers at the University of Michigan’s Mary H Weiser Food Allergy Center have developed a nasal vaccine that protects laboratory mice from allergic reactions upon exposure to peanuts, after just three monthly doses.

Having spent nearly 20 years developing a vaccine agent, the researchers may have now successfully created a peanut allergy vaccine. The study could provide useful information on how immune cells could respond to allergens to prevent allergic symptoms in humans.

Food Allergy Center research investigator and lead author of the study Jessica O’Konek said: “We’re changing the way the immune cells respond upon exposure to allergens. 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 study found that mice with peanut allergies developed similar symptoms as humans, notably itchy skin and breathing issues. Two weeks after the final vaccine was administered, the mice were analysed to see if the vaccine protected the mice.  The researchers could not pinpoint the duration of protection exhibited but said they were encouraged that the study will lead to long-lasting treatments for food allergies.

O’Konek told Food Processing Technology: “We experimentally sensitised the mice to peanuts using adjuvants, either aluminium hydroxide or cholera toxin. We are currently performing studies to test the duration of protection induced by the vaccination, as well as to further elucidate the mechanism or mechanisms of action.

“We also have studies ongoing to test nanoemulsion allergy vaccines for other food allergies, including egg and milk. Further research is needed to determine how the vaccine can suppress food allergies in mice and determine if the period of protection can be extended.”

Food Allergy Center director and senior author James Baker commented on the necessity for further research, saying: “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. 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.”