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There are few treatments for the millions of Americans suffering from food allergies. (Bigstock Photo)

Millions of people around the world suffer from food allergies, but we still know very little about how those allergies develop and how we can prevent or treat them.

A new study at Seattle’s Benaroya Research Institute, funded by a $5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, is hoping to answer some of those questions for the 15 million Americans living with peanut allergies.

The institute announced Monday that it will search for personalized treatments for peanut allergies by working to understand how patients’ immune systems respond to the peanut protein. That understanding will let scientists identify sub-groups of allergies and match patients with emerging treatments that will work best for them.

The study’s co-principal investigators, Erik Wambre (left) and William Kwok. (Benaroya Research Institute Photo)

“We are just beginning to fully understand on a cellular level why some people get peanut allergy and others don’t,” Erik Wambre, a Benaroya researcher and a co-principal investigator of the study, said in a press release. He will lead the study along with William Kwok. “As we better understand how food allergy works, we can match clinical therapies to individuals’ immune systems,” Wambre said.

The study takes a two-pronged approach: First, researchers will examine blood samples from patients with peanut allergies and sort the patients into sub-groups depending on which part of the peanut protein their immune system responds to.

The researchers will also follow two clinical trials into new peanut allergy treatments, one of which uses fragments of the peanut protein to turn off allergic responses. By combining the two data sets, the researchers hope to create a framework for personalized care so that patients only take the most effective treatment.

“This will be the first demonstration that peanut allergy may no longer be considered a single entity with a ‘one size fits all’ approach to treatment,” Benaroya researcher Peter Linsley said in a press release. Linsley leads the data science core that will connect the two parts of the study.

Currently, peanut and other food allergies are treated as one condition, even though there are likely dozens of sub-groups with different characteristics.

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