The incidence of food allergy is soaring and currently affects 15 million Americans, millions of them children suffering from life-threatening peanut allergy. While advances have been made, treatment options for people living with peanut allergy remain limited in their effectiveness and longevity.
Scientists at Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason (BRI) have received a $5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to accelerate discovery of treatments for peanut allergy.
“Ultimately, this has the potential to truly upend the way we look at food allergy diagnosis and treatment,” Jane Buckner, MD, President of Benaroya Research Institute, said of the study.
The two-pronged study will first research peanut allergy patients’ immune responses and classify them into subgroups. Secondly, researchers will evaluate treatment options being used in a pair of clinical trials to determine how specific treatments can be matched to specific patients to teach their immune systems to tolerate peanut protein.
“We are just beginning to fully understand on a cellular level why some people get peanut allergy and others don’t,” said Erik Wambre, PhD, the BRI co-Principal Investigator of the study. “As we better understand how food allergy works, we can match clinical therapies to individuals’ immune systems.”
Researchers will utilize a unique approach in solving this puzzle. Said Dr Wambre:
Food allergy is a multifaceted disease with many subtypes. Instead of looking for new allergy immunotherapy therapies, we want to know which therapy should be applied to which patient – that is precision medicine. Our goal is high efficacy, high safety. To reach this goal we want to identify an immune signature that can guide treatment decisions and ensure better patient care.
In the first part of the study, investigators will provide blood samples from their patients at the Virginia Mason Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Clinic. The study’s BRI co-Principal Investigators, Erik Wambre, PhD and William Kwok, PhD will investigate the immune cells from these patients to classify peanut allergy patients into subgroups based on the part of the peanut protein that their immune system reacts to.
For the second part of the study, samples from two ongoing peanut allergy clinical trials will be investigated to pave the way for personalized medicine in food allergy, including the trial, sponsored by Aravax and underway in Australia, testing a novel treatment using carefully selected peanut protein fragments to switch off allergic reactions.
“If we can identify the key peanut protein fragment recognized by an individual’s immune response, we can determine whether that patient will experience less of a side effect from that therapy,” Dr Kwok said.
According to Dr Wambre, “The goal is to follow patients currently receiving treatment to look at the differences in immune response between groups of patients, and understand how that response correlates with treatment effectiveness and side effects that the patients experience.”
What they discover could guide the design of a new strategy for immune intervention and provide a framework for applying precision medicine in peanut allergy. This study will also allow researchers to identify whether there are differences between children and adults receiving the same kind of therapy for peanut allergy.
“This will be the first demonstration that peanut allergy may no longer be considered a single entity with a ‘one size fits all’ approach to treatment,” states Peter Linsley, PhD, the third BRI collaborator who leads the data science core that serves as the bridge between the two parts of the study. His team provides state-of-the-art technology and data analytics, incorporating BRI’s tetramer tool, developed by Dr Kwok, and single cell transcription, which allows researchers to isolate cells that recognize peanut protein. Those cells’ qualities will then be analyzed by Linsley’s team.