UC Researcher Primed to Study the Culprit Behind Dangerous Peanut Allergies

CINCINNATI—Why the peanut?

That’s the question internal medicine researchers Fred Finkelman, MD, and Marat Khodoun, PhD, will attempt to answer in a new food allergy study soon to begin at UC.

UC and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center are two of only 12 sites across the country awarded grants totaling $5 million to study food allergies.

The grants come from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and two food allergy advocacy groups. The UC study—$430,000 over two years—focuses on the peanut.

“Severe food allergy is most frequently caused by peanuts and tree nuts, especially in adults,” says Finkelman, a professor of medicine in UC’s immunology division.

One reason peanuts top the list of food allergens, he says, may be that one or more proteins in peanuts activate what is known as the body’s “complement system.”

Normally, this system is a positive defense system that assists in fighting bacteria and viruses, but when presented with peanut the system can become inappropriately activated, causing adverse reactions. While activation may cause some people no reaction at all or to just get a little bit sick, for others it contributes to anaphylaxis, a serious allergic reaction that is rapid in onset and may cause shock and death.

The challenge, says Finkelman, is determining which peanut protein or combination of peanut proteins causes activation.

According to the NIH, there are more than 30,000 cases of foodinduced anaphylaxis and as many as 150 food anaphylaxis-associated deaths in the United States each year, with most of the deaths in adolescents and young adults.

“UC is a powerhouse when it comes to allergy-related areas, and when you consider we have two grants here—to UC and Children’s—it shows a synergy between us,” says Finkelman.

Carine Blanchard, PhD, a researcher in the division of allergy and immunology at Cincinnati Children’s, has received $250,000 to study the molecular mechanisms behind food anaphylaxis with particular interest in the role a protein (TSG6) plays in food allergy responses. Blanchard’s team has previously shown an increased expression of TSG6 in a disease related to human food allergies—eosinophilic esophagitis.

This study will focus on understanding the expression and role of TSG6 in food allergy responses.

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