May 15, 2017
This is Food Allergy Awareness Week. Here at TMR, we wish to highlight one aspect of food allergy around which there is little awareness: how food allergies can be created with the use of aluminum adjuvants.
Life-threatening food allergy, especially to peanut, is a multi-million-dollar industry, with EpiPens costing an exorbitant amount. The race to find a cure through peanut vaccines and peanut patches is extremely lucrative, thus the need for a good sample of anaphylactic animals to experiment on in order to perfect these treatments. Approximately 1 in 13 children has life-threatening food allergies, or about two children in every classroom. Yet, biochemists will tell you it’s very difficult to overcome the natural barriers that prevent allergy. Something must happen to the immune system to push it into overdrive.
On the journey to life-threatening allergy there are a few winding paths, but only one rapid, busy highway: injection. Labs need to make animals anaphylactic to a range of foods rapidly and efficiently, and while it is possible to do so by repeated feeding of the allergen along with an adjuvant, as you can tell from this study, even a single injection makes the process much faster and more efficient.
In a sad twist of fate, one allergy mom, who used to make lab rats allergic during her pre-mom career as a scientist, discusses how they made them anaphylactic in the following interview:
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I studied Biological Sciences in college and was pre-med. After being accepted into two medical schools, I took some time to decide if medicine was really what I wanted to do (it wasn’t). I ended up working in a research lab straight out of college while trying to figure out my next steps. The lab was in the Clinical Immunology department of a prestigious university medical school. I worked there for two years before going back to school to study Clinical Laboratory Sciences for a second degree. I received my second bachelor’s degree followed by my certification in Medical Laboratory Sciences. After which, I proceeded to work in the clinical laboratory (hematology, chemistry, and urinalysis) of a very large county hospital for seven years. After this time, I left my job to care for my two children with autism and complex medical issues.
What did you specifically do in the lab?
In the research lab, my job title was Medical Research Technician and later Clinical Study Coordinator. As a Medical Research Technician, I conducted food allergy research on laboratory mice and performed lab analysis on the specimens that we later collected from the mice. The goal of this research was to study the process of allergen sensitization in the mouse model of human food allergy. Basically, we were trying to show how to create a food allergy in a mouse. Step one was to create the allergy and step two was to prove that we created it. As a Clinical Study Coordinator, I became more involved in the paperwork and grant-writing procedures, IRB approvals, etc. that go into running a research study through a university.
Can you outline the science behind making lab animals anaphylactic?
Well, the part of the research that I was involved in did not technically create anaphylaxis in mice. We were trying to establish (or in some cases duplicate a study) the ideal mouse model for studying food allergy, so that that mouse model could then go on to be manipulated to study different aspects of food allergy and anaphylaxis. For the two years that I was in the research lab, we were studying that “sensitization” piece. How do we make mice (and similarly, humans) become SENSITIZED to a food allergen? What we would do was expose groups of mice to different concentrations of an allergenic food extract (e.g., peanut, walnut, cashew, shrimp) at the same time as an adjuvant (something to stimulate an immune response in the mice—e.g., alum, aluminum hydroxide, pertussis toxin, cholera toxin). We would repeat this exposure several times over the course of a set time (e.g., six weeks) and then collect the blood of the animals for analysis. We were able to show that by exposing the animals to the food allergen at the same time as the adjuvants, we were effectively creating an IgE antibody response to food allergens in the mice. Further study down the road was to prove that the mice had truly become anaphylactic to the allergen (by challenging the food in a prior-sensitized mouse), but I was not involved in that research because I had moved on at that point. (There are studies that go on to show the mouse’s anaphylactic response; I just wasn’t involved in that personally.)
Can you also explain this in the simplest terms possible for those who feel intimidated by science?
In basic terms, we were able to create an allergy by “feeding” the mice a food allergen at the same time as a toxin (known as an adjuvant—a toxin chosen because of its ability to stimulate an immune response). We would repeat the process over several weeks and then analyze the mouse’s blood to show that we created the food-specific antibody necessary for anaphylaxis.
How is aluminum used in the lab? And what other medical products are aluminum present in?
We used both alum and aluminum hydroxide as adjuvants in these mouse model studies. When we “fed” the mouse the food allergen alongside the toxin, the mouse’s immune system would respond strongly to the toxin and simultaneously make antibodies to the food allergens. Some studies (both in our lab before I worked there and in other labs) have studied the same adjuvants but using intraperitoneal injection instead of oral gavage which is the method we used. Another medical product that can contain aluminum is a vaccine. Aluminum is used as the adjuvant in several childhood vaccines to increase the immune response to the vaccine’s pathogenic component. According to CDC.gov, “Aluminum is present in U.S. childhood vaccines that prevent hepatitis A, hepatitis B, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTaP, Tdap), Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), human papillomavirus (HPV) and pneumococcus infection.”
Adjuvants | Vaccine Safety | CDC
Adjuvants are added to vaccines to strengthen the body’s immune response to the vaccine. Vaccines with adjuvants are tested and monitored for safety. cdc.gov
1) For those who say rats and humans are not similar: “. . . shown remarkable consistency between murine and human samples.”
2) For those who say their child did not develop food allergy from vaccination, or were never vaccinated: Oral sensitization is far less consistent and effective: “the model of oral sensitization without an adjuvant requires a long process of sensitization (six weeks) and, although it has been used in several studies [33–36], success after oral sensitization was not always achieved in a high percentage of rats  and/or the sensitization does not always induce the synthesis of IgE antibodies.”
3) For those who say “But why doesn’t this happen to every child/person who receives vaccines/injections?”: “Although BN rats are high IgE responders, similar to atopic humans, experimental procedures in this rat strain to induce oral sensitization without adjuvant are time-consuming and are not always able to generate a reproducible and effective FA model [20,30,37–39].” so, even in high antibody responders, the adjuvant is what is really needed to kick the immune system into overdrive.
Quoted passages are from “Development and Characterization of an Effective Food Allergy Model in Brown Norway Rats.”
~ The Allergy Whisperer
The Allergy Whisperer is an allergy parent who understands the immune system a little too well and prays for the day that this epidemic ends.
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