Neutralizing allergen protein molecules
I receive news alerts related to food allergies through google.com. A recent article was printed on news.telegraph.co.uk. I cut and pasted it here. Thought it was pretty exciting!
Scientists have discovered how to neutralise the proteins in food that cause allergic reactions. It is a breakthrough that could change the lives of millions of people around the world and prevent at least 30 deaths a year in Britain.
The scientists found that when a series of electric shockwaves are passed through sesame seeds, the structures of the seed proteins alter - and 95 per cent of the proteins' allergic qualities vanish.
Now they are experimenting with peanuts and milk, and are confident that similar results can be obtained for these products too. To treat the sesame, small quantities of liquidised seeds are subjected to up to 20 pulses of 70,000 volts of electricity. Each pulse lasts for just three thousandths of a second: long enough to alter the structure of the sesame proteins, without changing the taste and texture of the product.
However, Shmuel Yannai, a professor of toxicology and food chemistry at the Technion Israel Institute of Food and Technology, admits it is still not known why the treatment works. "It is the crucial question. All we can say is what we suppose. We have found that between pulses of electricity, a very high pressure of up to 1,200 atmospheres is created inside the protein molecules. We think that this pressure does something to the molecular protein."
An allergic response is an overreaction by the body to normally harmless substances. It occurs when the body responds to a specific protein molecule, or allergen, by producing antibodies that attach to the molecules - like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle - and destroy them. This leads the body to release other chemicals such as histamine, resulting in symptoms such as wheezing and shortness of breath. If the shape of the protein molecule is changed, however, this process cannot occur as the allergen no longer "links up" with the antibody.
At present, sesame seeds can only be treated in a liquidised form, but Prof Shmuel aims to be able to treat solid seeds in a few months' time. Those who have tasted the treated sesame product report that the colour, taste and texture are indistinguishable from untreated products. They have yet to be tested, however, on people who are allergic to sesame seeds.
It is not yet known when products containing the treated seeds will reach the shelves, but Prof Yannai said that after the costs of the procedure are taken into account, he expects "neutralised" products to be no more than 20 per cent more expensive than their untreated counterparts.
It is estimated that one in four of the UK population is affected by allergies, and that half of sufferers are children. Nuts, eggs, seafood and milk are the most common foods that cause allergic reactions. In extreme cases, exposure to them can lead to anaphylactic shock - seizures and loss of consciousness. There are about 30 deaths in Britain every year from food allergies