YOUR HEALTH: Targeting a cell that could be the cause of allergies

SEATTLE, Washington –Franny Hall's peanut allergy has gotten worse since her first reaction to peanut butter in the first grade.

"My throat, it closes, like bit by bit and yeah, it's just really hard to breathe."

She carries an Epipen everywhere she goes, and she's had to use it.   It's tough for the whole family.

"You worry about what happens if this occurs to her and all the catastrophic things that can happen when you have anaphylaxis," said her father Tim Hall

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than 50 million people in the US suffer from allergies.  15-million are allergic to foods which can be life-threatening.

Benaroya Research Institute researcher Erik Wambre's discovery of the TH2A cell could be a big step toward stopping allergies like Franny's.

Now researchers can target the cell, which only appears in people with allergies.

"If we can destroy or block the cells, these cells, you should have an improvement in your symptoms," explained Wambre.

Now, Wambre is part of another study that uses the TH2A cells as a biomarker while participants are slowly exposed to their allergen.   The information can tell doctors whether therapy is working or not.

NEW RESEARCH:   Food allergies are a growing issue.   More and more kids are being affected by this type of disease and there is currently no FDA-approved treatment.   Immunotherapy works very well when the kids are young as their immune system is still open to change (referred to as plasticity).   Immunotherapy may need a minimum of three years of treatment but does not always result in improvement.   The TH2A cell as a biomarker can be used to see whether a patient should continue treatment or stop and take a different approach.

Franny is in that trial and her dad is proud she's sticking with it.

"This is the hope for you, that you could get better and if it works for you, it could work for somebody else."

Next up: Wambre will work to find the molecule that will short circuit TH2A cells.

"It's a dream, but maybe if we find this molecule that would block those cells, we will treat not only one allergy, but maybe all of them," he said.

A team of researchers at Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason University got a $5 million National Institutes of Health grant to accelerate their work to find allergy treatments.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.