Children’s allergies to peanuts have become so common that many primary schools ban peanut butter sandwiches from their students’ lunchboxes.
So the latest research from the WA Institute for Medical Research (WAIMR) into anaphylaxis will be welcomed by thousands of parents. Anaphylaxis is a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction commonly sparked by medication, insect venoms and foods such as peanuts, fish and eggs.
It affects about one in seven people at some time in their lives, with about one in 70 children across the globe seriously affected by peanut allergies. A study by WAIMR’s Centre for Clinical Research in Emergency Medicine has discovered that the concentration of half a dozen proteins involved in the body’s immune response were boosted in patients with these severe reactions.
The research, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, found the proteins were linked to low blood pressure, a serious complication of anaphylaxis.
Dr Shelley Stone (pictured), Research Assistant Professor in Emergency Medicine, said a lot of the allergic symptoms were caused by ‘leaky’ blood vessels.
“This causes low blood pressure which can result in people collapsing,” Dr Stone said.
“The proteins we identified may affect blood vessels, contributing to the drop in blood pressure.”
She said doctors tried to cure anaphylaxis with immunotherapy to desensitise the sufferer. “But it doesn’t work with everybody. “We might be able to improve immunotherapy, with the knowledge of this increased concentration of proteins,” she said. “There’s a long road ahead, but it’s a good start and a valuable step forward to a deeper understanding of anaphylaxis.”
Up until now, the severe reactions were treated without the key processes involved being well understood. Across Australia, hospital admissions for anaphylaxis increased by nearly nine per cent a year between 1993 and 2005.
This research was made possible by the efforts of doctors and nurses in eight emergency departments in WA and NSW, who collected special blood samples while they were resuscitating critically-ill patients. Professor of Emergency Medicine, Dr Simon Brown, said it was the first research in the world to study a large number of patients while they were actually experiencing severe reactions.
“Anaphylaxis comes on very suddenly and unexpectedly and this makes it difficult to study in humans,” Professor Brown said. It can occur without warning, affecting multiple organ systems with life-threatening symptoms including breathing difficulties, swelling of the tongue and throat and loss of consciousness.
“Our findings will allow us to extend research efforts on these proteins, and the genes that control their expression, to identify ways to predict who is at greatest risk and perhaps even prevent reactions in the first place,” he said.