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04 Sep 2022

Scientists working to ‘reverse’ food allergies with microbiome breakthrough

Scientists working to ‘reverse’ food allergies with microbiome breakthrough

A bacterial compound called butyrate could hold the key to reversing food allergies, scientists have found.

Food allergy is not a rare condition. Data from the European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients Associations (EFA) suggests 17 million Europeans suffer from food reactions a year, of which 3.5 million are under the age of 25. Over the last decade, the number children under five years of age with allergies has doubled and visits to the emergency room to treat anaphylactic shock have increased seven-fold.

“Food allergies and several other chronic diseases have increased dramatically over the past few decades,”​ Dr Jeffrey Hubbell of the University of Chicago observed at a recent media briefing arranged by the American Chemical Society. “Many of these have been linked to a lack of a lack of a healthy microbiome,”​ he explained.

Some of the bacteria in the gut microbiome produce metabolites, such as butyrate, that foster the growth of beneficial bacteria and maintain the lining of the gut. If a person’s microbiome is unhealthy and lacks these butyrate-producing bacteria, fragments of partially digested food can leak out of the gut and produce an immune reaction that results in an allergic response.

Working alongside colleagues at the University of Chicago, Dr Hubbell and colleagues noted that a butyrate has shown promise against allergic reactions in lab tests.

“Instead of providing the missing bugs to the patient orally or with a faecal transplant, we thought why don’t we just deliver the metabolites, like butyrate, that a healthy microbiome produces?”

Of course, it isn’t quite as simple as this. Butyrate has a ‘very bad smell’ - like dog poop and rancid butter – and even if you could get people to swallow it, it would be digested before reaching its destination in the lower gut. A new delivery system was required.

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