Researchers from Indiana University School of Medicine have found a way to block anaphylaxis caused by peanut allergies, a discovery they say could lead to life-saving therapeutics for people with severe peanut allergies.

The team detailed their findings in a newly published article in Science Translational Medicine.

“There are treatments for symptoms in patients with food allergies but few preventive therapies other than strict dietary avoidance or oral immunotherapy,” says Mark Kaplan, PhD, chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology and senior author of the study, in a press release. “Neither of those options is successful in all patients.”

When someone is allergic to a food, it is a result of allergen proteins cross-linking allergen-specific immunoglobulin E on the surface of mast cells and basophils. Activation of these cells can lead to anaphylaxis.

Researchers developed peanut-specific inhibitors, called covalent heterobivalent inhibitor (cHBI), that successfully blocked mast cell or basophil degranulation and anaphylaxis in an animal model.

“The inhibitor prevented allergic reactions for more than two weeks when given before allergen exposure,” says Nada Alakhras, lead author and a graduate student in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, in the press release. “The inhibitor also prevented fatal anaphylaxis and attenuated allergic reactions when given soon after the onset of symptoms.”

Basar Bilgicer, PhD, professor of chemical and biomedical engineering at the University of Notre Dame and co-senior author of the study, says in the press release that the findings suggest “cHBI has the potential to be an effective preventative for peanut-specific allergic responses in patients.” 

The inhibitor has not been tested in human patients yet. Researchers are doing further testing now in animal models to evaluate efficacy and toxicity before moving to clinical trials.