By Emily Shantz & Susan J. Elliott, on behalf of the GET-FACTS Steering Committee
GET-FACTS scientists Yuka Asai, Ann Clarke, Denise Daley and their team have published a study in The Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology that provides new information on how our genes may be involved in the development of peanut and other food allergies. In their study, which was funded by the Allergy, Genes and Environment (AllerGen) Network and CIHR, researchers identified several new genes linked with peanut allergy. One gene in particular, called c11orf30/EMSY, may be be especially important, as it appears to be involved in the development of not only peanut allergy, but other food allergies as well. This is the first study to identify EMSY as a potential genetic cause of food allergy.
How was this study done?
For the first part of the study, scientists analyzed DNA from 850 people with peanut allergy (from the Canadian Peanut Allergy Registry) and 926 people without. The researchers did a type of analysis known as a genome-wide association study (GWAS). Through this type of analysis, researchers scanned each genome, or set of DNA, to try to identify genes common among people with peanut allergy, but not common among people without. Because they are found more often in allergic people, it is likely that these genes play an important role in the development of peanut allergies. Several new genes associated with peanut allergy were uncovered, including EMSY.
For the second part of the study, scientists looked at all food allergies, not just peanut. They did what’s called a ‘meta-analysis’ meaning they combined data from the Canadian population (used above) with data from six other genetic studies done in the U.S., Australia, Germany, and Holland. When the data from these studies were pooled together, it was found that the same gene - EMSY - was also linked to other types of food allergy, besides peanut.
What does this mean? Well, essentially, it means that this gene - EMSY - is involved in peanut allergy, and this extends to food allergies in general.
Where do we go from here?
Identifying genes that are associated with food allergy is a fundamental step in understanding how food allergies develop. Once we determine how these genes work differently in food allergic patients, treatments could be developed that essentially re-direct them to act normally – thereby reversing or reducing the severity of the food allergy. The results from this study could also lead to genetic tests for food allergy. If we scan a person’s DNA and find food allergy-related genes, this could indicate that the individual is at risk for developing a food allergy. Those at risk would benefit from early intervention and better preparedness to deal with allergic reactions. Overall, this study provides an important foundation for future food allergy studies to build upon.