Canadian researchers have discovered a cell that they believe holds promising potential in laying the groundwork for a future cure for allergies.
The cell, called a type-2 memory B cell (MBC2), remembers your allergies., the researchers said in a study published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine. This means, for example. if you are allergic to peanuts your MBC2s alert the immune system and an allergic reaction follows.
“One of the major issues with allergies, especially peanut allergies and allergic rhinitis, is that people will stay allergic for a lifetime,” said Josh Koenig, assistant professor with McMaster’s Department of Medicine, and lead author of the study.
“Our immune system remembers, it has memory that we are allergic to these foods,” he told Global News.
More than three million Canadians suffer from allergies, and there is no cure, according to Food Allergy Canada. Some allergies may be mild and lead to itching or sneezing, while others may have more severe reactions such as difficulty breathing, swelling of the throat, or anaphylaxis, which can be life-threatening.
A food allergy occurs when the body’s immune system sees a certain food as harmful and reacts by triggering an allergic reaction. B cells are a type of immune cell that makes antibodies to help fight off infections. It can also cause allergies.
But it was still not known exactly how it does this, Koenig said. To find this out, the researchers at McMaster worked with a Denmark-based pharmaceutical company ALK-Abello and honed in on B cells to better understand how they affect allergies.
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The team created tetramers, a type of florescent molecule, out of allergens like Birth pollen and peanuts. This may it easier to locate memory B cells.
“We were trying to figure out what cells hold this memory of allergy. And what we ultimately ended up finding was a previously undescribed cell, a new type of cell that we call a type-2 memory B cell or MBC2,” Koenig said.
He expressed his astonishment at the discovery, admitting to a gasp of disbelief upon seeing the data, as it vividly illustrated the significance of MBC2’s role.
“We found that in allergic patients, that when they consume their allergen that these MBC2s will make these allergic antibody IgE and ultimately keep people allergic,” he said.
For example, he said if you are allergic to peanuts, your MBC2 cells make your immune system remember the allergy. When you encounter the peanuts again, the cell creates more of the antibodies that make you allergic.
The discovery of the type-2 memory B cell is encouraging news for the allergy community, Jennifer Gerdts, executive director of Food Allergy Canada, told Global News.
“There isn’t a lot available for this community, for treatment,” she said. “There is some availability of oral immunotherapy in some regions of Canada, but there’s limited access and requires the individuals to continue on the therapy to maintain tolerance.”
Oral immunotherapy involves giving small, gradually increasing doses of a food allergen by mouth until the patient can tolerate a certain amount of the allergen without experiencing a reaction. But only as long as they continue with the treatment.
“The majority of Canadians are managing food allergies just through avoiding what they’re allergic to,” Gerdts said.
Gerdts expressed optimism about the potential for developing therapies that surpass the current options. She believes the ultimate goal is to find a cure for allergies, and this cell discovery is a “major step along the journey to help us understand what’s possible and get closer to a cure.”
The team at McMaster believes the discovery of MBC2 gives scientists and researchers an exact target in treating allergies and could lead to new therapeutics, such as repurposing the cell or eliminating it.
“It’s a very important advance in my opinion because we found the exact target the exact cell that we need to go after to try to ultimately develop a cure for allergic diseases like food allergy,” Koenig said.
“The impact of developing this therapy is quite enormous… people do die from this disease. It’s not simply rashes or tummy aches, it can be much more severe.”
He believes a “roadmap” has emerged with the cell discovery. Going forward scientists can eliminate the cell or try and convince the cell “to not make those allergic antibodies and instead make something that’s more protective,” he said.
But there’s still a lot of work to be done, he cautioned.
“We’re now really digging into the exact mechanisms that cause this disease, which weren’t known beforehand. And it gives pharmaceutical companies like ALK and others a real target,” Koenig said.
“And if we can convince this to change, then there’s a cure that could emerge from that.”
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