AFS’s Backus joins major study to develop peanut allergy immunotherapy
By: Amanda Bowman
Brittany Backus, a senior research associate with Texas Tech University's Department of Animal and Food Sciences, is joining a multidisciplinary research team working toward eliminating peanut allergies through a $3.3 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a division of the National Institutes of Health. The treatment will use microneedles to possibly eliminate the peanut allergies.
Simply put, the overall goal is to create an immunotherapy for peanut allergies. Food allergies, including peanut allergies, have no treatment. Other allergies, like respiratory allergies for pollens, can be diminished by getting allergy shots. But if someone has a peanut allergy, they just have to avoid it in their food and, perhaps, carry epinephrine injection with them in case they have a severe allergic reaction.
"My role in the project is to use my expertise in comparative medicine, swine and behavior research to help create a model for peanut allergies," Backus said. "This interdisciplinary approach between Chemical Engineering and Animal and Food Sciences, will develop and validate a much-improved translational model for peanut allergy treatment."
The principal investigator on the grant is Harvinder Gill, Tech's Whitacre Endowed Chair of Science and Engineering and an associate professor of chemical engineering in the Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering. Gill is already is using microneedles to help treat dust mite allergens. The other member of the team is Akhilesh Shakya, a research assistant professor of chemical engineering. Two physicians from the Food Allergy Program at the Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, Carla Davis and Sara Anvari, also are part of this collaborative team effort to develop a treatment for peanut allergy.
Microneedles are tiny projections precisely engineered and arranged on a small patch the size of a dime. Drug molecules can be coated on the microneedles and then delivered into the top layers of the skin by applying the patch for about five minutes. When microneedles penetrate the skin, the coating dissolve in the moisture of the skin layers.
"We hypothesize that we can coat the peanut allergen on the surfaces of the microneedles and use them to deliver the allergen into the skin," Gill said. "If peanut allergen is administered through shots, it can cause severe reactions that can even be life threatening. As a result, peanut allergies are not treated with shots. However, if the allergen is delivered into the superficial layers of the skin, the systemic exposure – meaning the uptake of the allergen into the blood circulation – can be minimized because there are no blood vessels in the very top layers of the skin.
"We can optimize the length of the microneedles so that we can reduce the side effects of the therapy as opposed to allergy shots and make peanut allergy treatment using microneedles a safe and viable option," he said. Other benefits of using microneedles are that the patch is painless and, after initially being monitored by a doctor, it perhaps can even be self-applied by the patient, making it convenient, Gill said.
CONTACT: Michael Orth, chairman, Department of Animal and Food Sciences, Texas Tech University at (806) 834-5653 or email@example.com
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