This New Technology May Be The Key To Reversing Food Allergies
When it comes to optimal well-being, our immune systems are top of the priority list. We know that the immune system is paramount in terms of health ("A healthy body is dependent on a strong immune system," writes mbg contributor Heather Moday, M.D.), and luckily there are many natural remedies and proactive measures we can take to support immunity and protect ourselves from pathogens.
But immune system upkeep can be a tiring and frustrating feat, especially for those whose immune systems attack their own bodies (50 million people suffer from autoimmune diseases in the United States alone). New research, however, brings a beacon of hope for these people: Biotech company COUR Pharmaceuticals Co., has licensed nanotechnology that has the potential to not only prevent but actually reverse certain autoimmune diseases, like celiac disease.
The technology, presented in Barcelona, Spain, at the European Gastroenterology Week conference, tricks the immune system into thinking an allergen is safe. It does this by concealing immune triggers in an allergen-friendly shell, so they can remain undetected in the body. When the immune system doesn't see a potential threat, it doesn't attack—meaning, no allergen-induced havoc on your body. Because of this deception, researchers call it the "Trojan horse" nanoparticle, as the allergen essentially "hides" from the immune system.
How do we know it works?
In a clinical trial, scientists tested whether they could help reverse celiac disease with this new technology. While this disease affects only 1% of the population, it's an easy one to test because we know exactly what the allergen trigger is (gluten, in all its grain-heavy glory).
"Celiac disease is unlike many other autoimmune disorders because the offending antigen is well known—gluten in the diet," lead researcher Ciaran Kelly, M.D., affirms. "This makes celiac disease a perfect condition to address.”
To see whether they could, in fact, reverse celiac, the team loaded the nanoparticle with gliadin—a major component of gluten that's found in wheat—and injected it into participants' bloodstreams for one week. After the week, patients were fed gluten for 14 days.
In an exciting turn of events, the participants who received this treatment showed 90% less immune inflammation response than the untreated patients (my sincere apologies to this randomly selected, untreated group). A 90% decrease in inflammatory response is a huge number—not only for those who suffer from celiac but for the future of how we treat all allergies. It shows how this technology can successfully trick the immune system into thinking an allergen (maybe any allergen) is safe.
"This is the first demonstration the technology works in patients," said co-author Stephen Miller, Ph.D. "We have also shown that we can encapsulate myelin into the nanoparticle to induce tolerance to that substance in multiple sclerosis models, or put a protein from pancreatic beta cells to induce tolerance to insulin in type 1 diabetes models."
What he means is this "Trojan horse" technology has the potential to reverse a host of other autoimmune conditions and allergies, including multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, and even peanut sensitivities.
What's next for this innovation?
You may be seeing this nanotechnology in practitioners' offices more quickly than you think. It has already been granted "Fast Track status" from the FDA, and Takeda Pharmaceuticals has acquired an exclusive global license to start to commercialize the technology in order to treat celiac disease. Now that Takeda has essentially taken over the commercialization process, the research team can have the freedom to test the technology with other autoimmune conditions.
"Given the license by Takeda," John J. Puisis, CEO of COUR, says, "COUR will focus on clinical programs in peanut allergy and multiple sclerosis in the near term, and broaden even further over time."
Although it seems like only the gluten-afflicted can truly celebrate this technology (perhaps with a vegan chocolate layer cake?), we're making great strides toward the ability to recalibrate our immune systems. Who knew an ancient Greek tale like the "Trojan horse" could have so much significance for modern science?
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