Tricking away food allergies with nanoparticles?

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This might just be the coolest idea to “cure” food allergies we’ve ever heard, and we’re going to try to explain it without using the word “nanoparticles” too many times, because … science.


Imagine your child is allergic to peanuts …

What if you could hide peanuts inside a friendly little shell — let’s say, for example, it was made out of pasta — and sneak the peanuts inside your child’s body, like a miniature Trojan horse? Their body would be like “Oh, pasta? NBD,” and wouldn’t go crazy because it doesn’t mind dealing with pasta. Sneaky, sneaky.

But wait — it gets better! Imagine a chipper little mail-carrier cell (let’s call him Mr. Macrophage) picks up the pasta and delivers it to your child’s immune system explaining “It’s cool — pasta’s delicious and you like it.”

The immune system is suspicious. “No peanuts in there, right? I hate peanuts.” Mr. Macrophage assures him it’s peanut-free. The immune system breathes a sigh of relief and says “Well, no need to throw a tantrum then. Thanks!” and then, like, kicks back for a while with a good book.

The next time peanuts arrive on their own, the immune system doesn’t even get up off the couch — he just gives a thumbs up and goes back to reading. He doesn’t know why, but peanuts just don’t bother him any more. They’re fine.

(Now do you see why we’re SO. VERY. EXCITED by this news? Hiding allergens in nanoparticles could trick your child’s immune system into accepting their allergen — warding off potentially life-threatening allergic reactions!)

This adorable anecdote is very exciting for families with food allergies because it’s actually in the works. Northwestern Medicine researchers are testing biodegradable nanoparticles that can conceal an allergen. The nanoparticles are made from an FDA-approved biopolymer called PLGA that includes lactic acid and glycolic acid.

When the theory was tested with mice, researchers started by pretreating them to be allergic to egg protein. Exposing them to egg gave them an allergic response like asthma. But after they ingested the nanoparticles, they no longer had reactions to egg protein.

The idea is already in clinical trials for Celiac disease treatment and researchers feel confident you could load up the nanoparticles with anything you want to eliminate, whether it’s peanut protein, egg protein or ragweed pollen. 

We’re eager to hear what happens next with this project.

H/T Northwestern University

Heather Laura Clarke, a contributing writer at Scratch or Sniff, lives in Nova Scotia, Canada, with her high-school sweetheart husband, seven-year-old son, and five-year-old daughter. She writes for newspapers and magazines across Canada and the U.S., and blogs about her family life at Heather's Handmade Life. Follow her adventures on Twitter or Instagram.

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