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Discovery Of Immune System Switch Offers Hope For Food Allergy Sufferers

September 12, 2010: 12:56 PM EST

Allergies to foods such as milk and peanuts lead to about 300,000 emergency room visits and as many as 200 deaths a year. But now a discovery by U.S. scientists offers hope of relief to the millions who suffer from food allergies. Working in mice, the researchers found that a certain type of immune cell in the gut – a first line of defense for the immune system – expresses a special receptor, SIGNR1, on the cell’s surface where it binds to specific sugars. They targeted the receptor using sugar-modified protein and were able to keep harmful, allergy-inducing food proteins from causing serious harm. The placebo-controlled study found that the mice that weren’t fed the modified protein experienced tremors, convulsions or death, while the group fed the protein had only minor reactions.

Yufeng Zhou, Hirokazu Kawasaki, et al., "Oral tolerance to food-induced systemic anaphylaxis mediated by the C-type lectin SIGNR1", Nature Medicine, September 12, 2010, © Nature Publishing Group
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