New test for peanut allergy more accurate, safer than current tests

May 7, 2018

Scientists from Britain’s Medical Research Council (MRC) have developed a new laboratory test to safely diagnose peanut allergy, offering a better way to monitor a significant food hazard.

The test has 98 per cent specificity and, unlike current options, it does not run the risk of false-positives or cause allergic reactions such as anaphylactic shock.

Current tests, in use for decades, are based on looking for antibodies – but they cannot differentiate between sensitivity and true food allergy. So-called oral food challenges require the presence of an allergist and specialist nurses and they cost around US$1,360 to conduct. The new blood test is five times cheaper.

Alexandra Santos, an MRC scientist and paediatric allergist at King’s College London, who led the research, believes the new test will not only save money on testing but also reduce by two-thirds the number of stressful oral food challenges that are needed.

The development of the new test follows advances in science that allow the detection of biological signals from much small blood samples than in the past.

“The technology has evolved. Now we have better ways to look at immune cells and to see how they respond,” Santos said.

The new tests focus on mast cells, which play a pivotal role in triggering allergic symptoms, such as skin reactions or constricting of the airways.

In a study involving 174 children, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Santos and colleagues showed the new test tracked closely the severity of allergies, with the worst-affected patients having the most activated mast cells.

The team is now discussing plans for the widespread roll-out of the test with an unnamed commercial partner. There are also plans to adapt it to other foods, such as milk, eggs, sesame and tree nuts.

There are currently no approved drugs for peanut allergies, although two biotech companies – U.S.-based Aimmune Therapeutics and France’s DBV Technologies – are working to develop rival treatments.

Santos said the new blood test could play a role in monitoring patients’ response to such medicines.


Category: Features, Technology & Devices

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