University of Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN-  Chemical and biomolecular engineers at Notre Dame have blazed the trail towards detecting and identifying the severity of peanut allergies -- without actually exposing the subject to allergens. In the online journal Scientific Reports, a new study detailed how the team of Notre Dame engineers utilized nanoparticles that mimicked natural allergens.

They referred to these nanoparticles as “nanoallergens,” and they used them to understand peanut allergy proteins and evaluate the severity of the allergic response using antibodies present in a blood sample from the patient. According to a Notre Dame press release, Basar Bilgicer, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Notre Dame, said allergy specialist clinicians are evaluating the diagnostic tool and testing it on a larger population with the hope that the tool improves diagnostics and expands its scope to serve all those who suffer from food allergies.

Current food allergy testing methods impose risks on patients or do not provide an accurate assessment of the severity of the allergic reaction. The oral food challenge test subjects a patient to eating a suspected allergen until the point of an extreme allergic response, thereby stopping the test so that doctors can treat the patient.

Another test is the skin prick test where the doctor leaves a drop of liquid with the suspected allergen on the patient’s skin. However, this test does not shed any light on the severity of the reaction. Bilgicer said there is a need for more precise and efficient allergen testing. While their study focused on peanut allergies, he said he and his team are working on testing the tool with other allergens.

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