by Kathleen Scalise
Sufferers of food allergies, take heart. A new technique that may open the door to relief has been discovered by scientists at three UC campuses.
Researchers from Berkeley, UCSF and UC Davis reported successful application of the new method to lower the allergenicity of milk at the Oct. 19-24 meeting of the International Congress of Allerology and Clinical Immunology.
Berkeley has filed for patents on the discoveries, and is in the process of identifying organizations to develop commercial applications.
The new technology exploits the ability of a naturally occurring product called thioredoxin to make some proteins, such as those found in wheat and milk, more digestible and less allergenic. These components of foods, called allergens, normally trigger an allergic response in individuals with a particular food sensitivity. Thioredoxin works by changing the shape of proteins in problem foods so they lose much of their ability to trigger allergies. The treated proteins are also easier to digest.
"If things work out, this new biotechnology could make life easier for millions suffering from food allergies," said Bob B. Buchanan, a professor of plant and microbial biology at the College of Natural Resources.
"We've found that people who have learned about this approach have been very excited because nothing like this has been done before. We could save lives and reduce illnesses for millions of human and canine food allergy sufferers worldwide simply through using a compound present in the diet to alter food allergens."
Buchanan's collaborators include G. del Val, B. C. Yee and R. Lozano of Berkeley, as well as allergy specialist O. L. Frick of UCSF and R. Ermel of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
While at present the only guaranteed means of treating a food allergy is by elimination of the problem food from the diet, Buchanan said thioredoxin might change this.
In highly food-sensitive dogs, Buchanan and his colleagues have shown as much as a 300-fold reduction in allergenicity for milk pretreated with thioredoxin.
Buchanan said that as many as nine in 10 dogs experienced a significant relief of the problem in response to the treatment.
Although human trials have not begun, "dogs are very similar to humans for allergies," said Frick.
If human trials prove as promising as the ongoing studies with dogs, thioredoxin could minimize human allergy problems and make dairy products available to countless infants and adults worldwide. Future trials may also prove the thioredoxin technique useful for eggs and nuts.
Thioredoxin might help alleviate symptoms not only for allergy sufferers, but also for some of the 300,000 people in the United States who have celiac disease-a poorly understood reaction to wheat. Such individuals cannot consume most cereals without suffering from symptoms ranging from mild headache to sudden loss of consciousnes.