Prof John Hayball (Photo: UniSA)

December 6, 2019

Australian researchers say peanut allergies could become a thing of the past if breakthrough research from the University of South Australia develops a radically new way to vaccinate people against the potentially life-threatening condition.

The vaccine uses a virus platform to rewrite the body’s response to peanut allergens but so far has only been tested on mice and in blood samples.

It has been developed in partnership with biotech company Sementis and the University of South Australia’s Experimental Therapeutics Laboratory.

Funding from the Channel 7 Children’s Research Foundation will now help evaluate the efficacy of the vaccine in humans.

Project leader Dr Preethi Eldi said the vaccine had a great potential to change lives.

“The impact peanut allergy can have on a family is all-consuming, especially given the very real risks to a child’s heath,” Dr Eldi said.

“If we can deliver an effective peanut allergy vaccine, we’ll remove this stress, concern, and constant monitoring, freeing the child and their family from the constraints and dangers of peanut allergy.”

Prof John Hayball, from the University of South Australia, said the vaccine tricks the immune system into seeing peanut allergens in a new light, so the body responds normally instead of generating an allergic reaction.

“We’re effectively reprogramming the body to see peanuts as an entity that can be cured by a vaccine, rather than an allergen that elicits an allergic reaction,” Prof Hayball said.

“Already, the vaccine is showing signs of success, shifting peanut-specific immune responses in mouse models of peanut allergy, and in preliminary in vitro vaccination-like studies using human blood samples from clinically confirmed peanut allergic people.

“The next steps are to gain further human samples and confirm the efficacy of the vaccine. This will demonstrate human translational capacity and will significantly increase the chances of success in future clinical trials.”

Allergic reactions to peanuts range from mild hives, cramps, nausea and vomiting to life-threatening anaphylactic reactions that require immediate medical attention.

Severe allergic reactions can include impaired breathing, swelling in the throat, a sudden drop in blood pressure, dizziness, and even death.

Globally, the incidence of food allergies and related life-threatening anaphylaxis is increasing, with the World Allergy Organisation reporting 220-550 million people are affected.

One in 200 adults in Australia – and almost three in every 100 children – are believed to be affected by peanut allergy.

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