Scientists made an announcement on September 8 that treatment for a broad range of food allergies will be available in less than ten years. Researchers have found treatments by altering the proteins in the food that cause allergic reaction. These treatments harmlessly desensitize the body's immune system.
"Therapies for food allergy will be on the market within seven to 10 years," said Ronald van Ree, of the University of Amsterdam, who is leading work on the development of treatments.
The overreaction of the cells of the immune system called immunoglobulin E (IgE) to protein molecules that are normally harmless leads to an allergic reaction. These protein molecules are called allergens and are present in cats, horses, nuts, milk and pollen.
In Britain, some form of allergy affects 30% of adults and 40% of the kids, says the Royal College of Physicians (RCP). The number is on the rise.
Peanut allergy was not very common in 1990, however, 1 in 200 children were affected by it in 1996. Now, the figure may have risen to as high as 1 in 50.
In 2003, it was concluded by the RCP that the highest prevalence of allergy in Europe was in Britain. It was among the highest in the world.
"For food allergy, the only treatment is avoidance and rescue medication if you're not successful in avoiding the food you're allergic to," said Dr Van Ree.
"Because the allergens are well known, I was able to artificially produce them, but with a difference. We can change the molecules so that IgE antibodies do not bind to the allergen any more."
"If we can fool the immune system in such a way that we can mimic chronic exposure by taking microbial or parasitical factors and adding them, then we might be able to shorten the treatment," he said.
There was a decrease in reactions by a factor of 10, with the modified versions of the allergens in apples produced by Dr Van Ree. Research is being done in the U.S. on the mutated version of the allergens on peanuts.