Scientists one step closer to 'vaccine' for egg allergy

Credit: Adobe Stock
Credit: Adobe Stock

Lymphocytes are white blood cells that regulate the immune system. If they have some 'experience' with an allergenic protein and get transplanted into another organism, that transfer will strengthen the immune reaction and the body will start to defend itself better against this protein. The experiment was conducted by scientists from the Institute of Animal Reproduction and Food Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Olsztyn.

They showed that transplanted CD4+ T cells that had been in contact with a chicken egg protein enhanced the immune response to it. The results were published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.

“The results of our research may be a step towards developing methods of treating patients with allergies,” said the research author, Dr. Dagmara Złotkowska from the Department of Immunology and Food Microbiology of the Institute of Animal Reproduction and Food Research PAS in Olsztyn.

A food allergy is an abnormal reaction of the body's immune system to a specific compound, an allergen. It is a type of food hypersensitivity that causes adverse reactions to food, involving the immune system.

T cells (white blood cells) that regulate the immune response play an important role in the fight against food allergies.

Dr. Złotkowska said: “This is a group of cells that specialise in defending our body against the undesirable effects of potential allergens.”

According to the researcher, if we can 'teach' cells to recognize and neutralize specific allergenic proteins, these 'teachers' could be transferred (for example in the form of vaccines) to the body of allergy sufferers to minimize their immune response. 

Złotkowska said: “This can be compared to the mechanism of the mRNA vaccine against COVID-19, where - to put it simply - we do not provide the cells with a virus, but with a +set of instructions+ on how to produce antibodies.”

The team from the Department of Immunology and Food Microbiology of the Institute of Animal Reproduction and Food Research PAS in Olsztyn focused on allergy to chicken egg protein and the possibility of cross-reactivity with chicken meat proteins. This meat is a common component of the modern diet; allergy to it is relatively rare and occurs either independently or in people allergic to egg white (OVA, or ovalbumin, is the main protein found in egg white). CD4+ T cells are special immune cells that recognise allergens, including the OVA protein.

In the experiment, the researchers transplanted experienced CD4+ T cells (ones that had already been in contact with OVA) into the body of an animal that was allergic to OVA and fed chicken meat. 

Dr. Złotkowska said: “It turned out that such a transfer helped to improve the negative immune response to OVA, that is, it strengthened the body's immune response to the OVA protein, which was previously not recognized or fought off by the immune system. To put it simply, the body began to defend itself better against this protein.”

The approach of the researchers from Olsztyn is innovative and may contribute to the development of treatment methods for patients with allergies. 

Złotkowska added: “So far, the most effective way to treat food allergy is the elimination diet that eliminates not only allergens, but also other cross-reacting proteins. I doubt that we can find a +cure+ for allergy in the near future, because many factors and mechanisms affecting remain unknown. The results of our research may, however, be a step towards developing methods of treating patients with allergies, for example by giving them +trained+ groups of cells that could reduce the immune response to a given allergen. There are still many years of research ahead of us, but the direction seems promising', the researcher concludes. (PAP)

PAP - Science in Poland, Agnieszka Libudzka

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