Earlier this month, I got not one, but three notes home from administrators at my kids' school. The district officially has implemented a fruit-and-veggie-only snack policy in an effort to accommodate peanut and other allergies.
Now, I know you're not in grade school like my kids are. But peanut and other allergies are as much of a real concern in businesses as they are in schools. Take the 2016 case of a disgruntled employee who smeared peanut butter on a peanut-allergic worker's desk, for example. They also deserve attention under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In this context, scientists might have made a major breakthrough, as reported in Science Daily.
One pesky gene is causing trouble, but it's got backup
Researchers have found previous evidence suggesting genetics are closely linked to the development of food and other allergies. In a recent study, however, researchers from the University of British Columbia scanned over 7.5 million genetic markers from 850 Canadians with a peanut allergy and 1,000 Canadians who are not allergic to peanuts. They also conducted an analysis of six other genetic studies spanning populations from different areas of the world.
The scientists discovered that one gene--c11orf30/EMSY, or just EMSY for short--is associated with increased risk of your immune system misfiring against peanuts. It also raises the risk of general food allergy development. Five other genes likely contribute, too.
What it means for your lunchtime peanut butter and jelly
Unfortunately, this deeper understanding of EMSY probably won't translate to you or someone on your team immediately downing a peanut butter protein smoothie or noshing on a thick slice of peanut butter chocolate cheesecake. (Wait. Just saver the idea of that last one for a moment.) Once you've developed a peanut allergy, the odds of outgrowing it aren't so great--only about 20 percent of kids with a peanut allergy go on to be able to consume peanut products as adults.
But what the research could do in the very near future is help out your kids, or your cubemate's kids. That's because if you can catch a peanut allergy early, there's a much better chance that, through controlled exposure, you can train the immune system to handle the peanuts better. In this regard, organizations such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have reversed their previous recommendations to wait to expose kids to peanuts, now advising parents to get peanut products on their youngsters' tongues as early as four months. Such therapy can reduce the risk of developing a peanut allergy by 80 percent. Additionally, recent approaches to immunotherapy for peanut allergy have significantly improved. Genetic screening could give you or others a heads up that this type of early exposure is more critical.
In another vein, there's a possibility that, as understanding of human genetics improves, scientists eventually might be able to develop a gene therapy that could make peanut allergy symptoms disappear. Researchers from institutions such as The University of Queensland and Weill Cornell Medicine, for example, are already working on gene therapy approaches for peanut allergy. Knowledge about EMSY could help researchers figure out missing pieces they need to make a treatment stick on a lifelong basis. That could help even adults.
All this said, it's important to remember that genetics are just one aspect of allergies. Scientists believe the environment plays a big part, too. If we can unlock the environmental factors and EMSY, we'll be in amazing shape for securing better health and quality of life.