For most of us allergies are just a nuisance. We take antihistimines or use inhalers so we don't turn into puffy eyed messes.
But for 45-million Americans allergies can be deadly, especially for those allergic to peanuts, shellfish or penicillin.
Dr. Basar Bilgicer, Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Notre Dame is leading a team that is making concrete congress toward a first-time ever preventative for severe Type One Hypersensitive allergies.
He fields emails daily from parents with children who have gone into anaphylactic shock because of severe allergies. One mother told him that after eating a cookie, she kissed her toddler daughter sending her into anaphylactic shock.
Sadly with severe allergies, the first warning is often when a child goes into shock. If not treated immediately the reaction is deadly.
And sometimes even when treated there is death.
Like the California teen who, in July, ate a rice crispy treat, not knowing it contained peanut oil. Her dad, a doctor, administered three epi pens, epinephrine, to try and save her life. It failed.
It's stories like that that drives Bilgicer and his team of chemical and biomolecular engineers.
Their work was recently published in the journal, Nature Chemical Biology.
Dr. Bilgicer explains, "What we are trying to achieve in the lab is to design a molecule that will prevent the allergen from interacting with cells, with the immune system cells, that are responsible or this response."
And they have found a molecule they believe, when introduced to a persons blood stream, would out compete the allergen.
Dr. Bilgicer says it's a first step, but a very important one, because it could lead them to an inhibitor for peanut allergies and others, like penicillin or shellfish. "We have a method, a potential to develop a molecule that can actually inhibit the allergic reaction from, or curing for a specific allergy."
Bilgicer says the treatment would be like a preemptive type strike, probably through injection, saying. "For example when you are getting on a plane, because there have been reported incidences where a fellow passenger would open a bag of peanuts and the dust would affect say, someone with a peanut allergy. The goal should be to eliminate the condition from taking place."
The next phase of the trial, aimed specifically at peanut allergies, is already underway at Notre Dame with hopes of one day saving families from the devastation of losing a child to sudden death simply because they took a bite of the wrong food.
Bilgicer, the father of two, knows the sooner the better for a solution other than an epi pen. "As a parent myself i realize how scary it could be to not be able to protect your child."
Does he foresee a future where people will not have to worry about their child or loved one going into anaphylactic shock? "I sure hope so."
Testing continues at Notre Dame aimed specifically at peanut allergies but he says if this molecule proves effective, it could also be used to target other allergies like shellfish and penicillin.
He minds us it is a first step and it may be years before a preventive drug may be on the market.
If you would lke to read the study published in the journal, Nature Chemical Biology, you can click on the link below: