June 20, 2014

High Hopes For New Hypoallergenic Peanuts

April Flowers for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

The fastest growing allergy in the world right now is to peanuts. Reactions run the gamut from a slightly swollen tongue to severe, and potentially fatal anaphylaxis. Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) says that allergy to peanuts is on the rise in children, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that nearly 4 million Americans have the allergy. There may be an answer on the horizon, however.

In a recent study, researchers from North Carolina's Agricultural and Technical State University (NC A&T) describe a new, patented, process for removing up to 98 percent of allergens from peanuts. Allergens are the substances in organic products that trigger allergic reactions such as swelling or hives. The new process, developed by NC A&T School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences' food and nutrition researcher Dr. Jianmei Yu and two former colleagues, involves soaking de-shelled and roasted peanuts in a solution of food-grade enzymes. Yu stresses that the "new" peanuts are not genetically modified.

"Treated peanuts can be used as whole peanuts, in pieces or as flour to make foods containing peanuts safer for many people who are allergic," said Yu. "The treated peanuts could even be used in immunotherapy, under a doctor's supervision, the hypoallergenic peanuts can build up a patient’s resistance to the allergens.”

Two key peanut allergens, Ara h1 and Ara h 2, are reduced by the new process. Ara h 1 is reduced to undetectable levels, while Ara h2 is reduced 98 percent. Researchers used human skin-prick trials, conducted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, to measure the effectiveness of their method.

NC A&T has signed an exclusive licensing agreement with a Toronto-based firm that specializes in commercializing emerging technologies in food, agriculture, and a variety of other fields, Xemerge.

“This is one of the best technologies in the food and nutrition space we have seen,” said Johnny Rodrigues, Chief Commercialization Officer of Xemerge.

“It checks all the boxes: non-GMO, patented, human clinical data, does not change physical characteristics of the peanut along with maintaining the nutrition and functionality needed, ready for industry integration from processing and manufacturing to consumer products.”

Other approaches have been made to reduce peanut allergens that involved chemicals and irradiation. The NC A&T process uses neither of these; rather it employs commonly available food-processing equipment. Dr. Yu is working with Xemerge to further refine the process by testing other food-grade enzymes. Rodrigues says that there is no timetable, yet, for releasing the hypoallergenic peanuts to grocery stores and food manufacturers.

“We have the FDA, and food manufacturers’ product cycles to factor in,” Rodrigues added. “Remember that in many cases, the peanut processors will be selling to a third party who will be integrating the hypoallergenic peanuts into their branded products.”

Not everyone is convinced, however. Dr. Ruchi Gupta is a pediatrician at Northwestern University in Chicago, and the author of The Food Allergy Experience. She cautions allergy sufferers to be wary of new products.

“I love that people are working on products to improve the lives of people with peanut allergies, but do we need them and will people use them? I think more testing is needed,” she told Reuters Health. “Even a small amount of the allergenic proteins in peanuts can cause very severe allergic reactions.”