From Science Daily:
Every three minutes, a food-related allergic reaction sends someone to the emergency room in the U.S. Currently, the only way to prevent a reaction is for people with food allergies to completely avoid the food to which they are allergic. Researchers are actively seeking new treatments to prevent or reverse food allergies in patients. Recent insights about the microbiome — the complex ecosystem of microorganisms that live in the gut and other body sites — have suggested that an altered gut microbiome may play a pivotal role in the development of food allergies.
A new study, led by investigators from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital, identifies the species of bacteria in the human infant gut that protect against food allergies, finding changes associated with the development of food allergies and an altered immune response.
“This represents a sea change in our approach to therapeutics for food allergies,” said co-senior author Lynn Bry, MD, PhD, director of the Massachusetts Host-Microbiome Center at the Brigham. “We’ve identified the microbes that are associated with protection and ones that are associated with food allergies in patients. If we administer defined consortia representing the protective microbes as a therapeutic, not only can we prevent food allergies from happening, but we can reverse existing food allergies in preclinical models. With these microbes, we are resetting the immune system.”
To understand how the bacteria species might be influencing food allergy susceptibility, the team also looked at immunological changes, both in the human infants and in mice. They found that the Clostridiales and Bacteroidetes consortia targeted two important immunological pathways and stimulated specific regulatory T cells, a class of cells that modulate the immune system, changing their profile to promote tolerant responses instead of allergic responses. These effects were found both in the pre-clinical models and also found to occur in human infants.
The new approach represents a marked contrast to oral immunotherapy, a strategy that aims to increase the threshold for triggering an allergic reaction by giving an individual small but increasing amounts of a food allergen. Unlike this approach, the bacteriotherapy changes the immune system’s wiring in an allergen-independent fashion, with potential to broadly treat food allergies rather than desensitizing an individual to a specific allergen.
“When you can get down to a mechanistic understanding of what microbes, microbial products, and targets on the patient side are involved, not only are you doing great science, but it also opens up the opportunity for finding a better therapeutic and a better diagnostic approach to disease. With food allergies, this has given us a credible therapeutic that we can now take forward for patient care,” said Bry.