Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine
McMaster Immunology Research Centre McMaster University, MDCL-4015 1280 Main Street West Hamilton ON Canada L8S 4K1
Food allergy is thought to develop due to a lack of induction, or disruption in, oral tolerance. The “Hygiene Hypothesis” purports that early microbial exposure decreases the risk of developing allergies or, alternatively, increases the likelihood of tolerance induction. In line with this hypothesis is the notion that the extensive life-long communication between the immune system and more than 1014 resident gut bacteria critically influences whether tolerance or allergic disease develops upon antigen ingestion. Thus, we think that the finely timed evolution of resident gut flora impacts early host immune programming and, thus, likely influences the immunological response, oral tolerance versus sensitization, which ensues upon an initial encounter with antigen. Consequently, improper or inadequate maturation of the immune system may result in aberrant responses to ingested antigens and ultimately, food allergy. We have established several mouse models of peanut allergy and anaphylaxis, and an ongoing extension of this work involves the use of axenic and gnotobiotic animals in collaboration with scientists in the Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Institute. In addition, clinical research in this area is conducted in collaboration with Dr. Susan Waserman. The goals of this research are: to develop better tools to determine who is truly allergic to peanut and, b) to implement immunotherapy strategies.