A team of chemical and biomolecular engineers at the University of Notre Dame designed nanoparticles, or “nanoallergens”, that mimic natural allergens by displaying each allergic component one at a time on their surfaces. These nanoallergens are used to dissect the critical components of major peanut allergy proteins and evaluate the potency of the allergic response using the antibodies present in a blood sample from a patient.
“The goal of this study was to show how nanoallergen technology could be used to provide a clearer and more accurate assessment of the severity of an allergic condition,” said Basar Bilgicer, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and a member of the Advanced Diagnostics and Therapeutics initiative at Notre Dame. The goal of this new testing procedure is to replace the oral food challenge; which requires a patient to ingest small amounts of the offending food to the point of intolerance or anaphylaxis; and skin prick testing, which may have false-positive test results.
“We are currently working with allergy specialist clinicians for further testing and verification of the diagnostic tool using a larger patient population. Ultimately, our vision is to take this technology and make it available to all people who suffer from food allergies.”
In honor of the upcoming World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, I wanted to share some information regarding autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and food allergies.
IgE-mediated allergic diseases (e.g., allergic rhinoconjunctivitis, atopic asthma and food allergy) are among the most common chronic conditions worldwide, and are continuing to rise each year. In addition to easily recognized symptoms, such as a runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing and coughing, allergic diseases can cause neuropsychiatric symptoms, such as irritability and hyperactivity, in otherwise healthy individuals. This is also likely to occur in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Moreover, the discomfort and pain associated with allergic diseases could aggravate behavioral symptoms in ASD children.  This may be due the child’s inability to communicate or fully understand or explain his or her discomfort.
Autism spectrum disorder children are known to suffer from additional issues, with gastrointestinal (GI) and sleep disorders being the most common. It may be useful to test for food allergies to confirm or rule out allergies as a cause for GI issues. Allergy testing can be done by skin testing or blood work. Many times these tests indicate that children do, in fact, have true allergic responses to foods. Other times, the tests come back “negative” for food allergies.
If a patient tests positive for food allergies, they can be treated with sublingual immunotherapy (allergy drops), by avoiding the allergy-inducing foods altogether, or a combination of both.
For more information about World Autism Awareness Day, please go to: https://www.autismspeaks.org/. Wear blue on April 2 to show your support of the Light It Up Blue national campaign.