According to the CDC, approximately 4 to 6 percent of U.S. children under the age of 18 have food allergies. Food allergies can lead to a range of symptoms, from hives to abdominal cramps to serious, life-threating conditions like anaphylaxis. Unfortunately, there is no cure for food allergies, and the best treatment for many patients is simply to avoid certain foods.
But a new study could offer hope for those with food allergies. A team from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania recently published a study in Nature Medicine that sheds light on food allergy-associated inflammation. Led by David Artis, PhD, the team examined eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), a food allergy-associated disease affecting children and adults caused by inflammation in response to certain foods, such as eggs or soy. The inflammation associated with EoE can lead to esophageal dysfunction, painful digestion, and weight loss. Current treatment options involve adherence to strict diets.
Several Children’s Hospital investigators also contributed to the study, including Director of the Center for Applied Genomics Hakon Hakonarson, MD, PhD, Patrick M.A. Sleiman, PhD, Terri F. Brown-Whitehorn, MD, and allergy expert Jonathan Spergel, MD, PhD.
With their study, Dr. Artis and his colleagues sought to better understand the condition’s underlying mechanisms. Using a mouse model, they showed that a rare type of immune cells known as basophils promote EoE when coupled with a sensitivity to egg and peanut protein and increased levels of thymic stromal lymphopoietin (TSLP), a protein produced by epithelial cells in the esophagus.
Dr. Artis’ recent study builds on previous work by CHOP investigators. In 2010, Drs. Sleiman and Hakonarson — along with Struan F.A. Grant, PhD, associate director of the Center for Applied Genomic, and Drs. Spergel and Brown-Whitehorn — published a study in Nature Genetics that found EoE was associated with TSLP.
“The use of this new mouse model has revealed that TSLP production, and the resulting basophil responses, may be critical in promoting EoE in response to exposure to allergy-triggering foods,” said Mario Noti, PhD, one of the study’s co-authors and a postdoctoral researcher in Dr. Artis’s lab.
The study will help researchers better understand eosinophilic esophagitis, and could eventually be used to develop targeted therapeutics to treat the condition, the researchers say.
“Although more research is required, these studies suggest that we may be able to target TSLP and basophils to treat esophageal inflammation associated with EoE,” Dr. Artis noted.
To read more about this study, see the full press release from Penn Medicine.