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Immune System Cell Found to Trigger Food Allergies

March 29, 2001

A type of immune system cell that treats certain foods as germs rather than nourishment is the culprit behind many food allergies, Ohio researchers reported in the April issue of Nature Immunology. The finding could lead to better treatment for millions of people. Researchers used mice to pin the blame on white blood cells called eosinophils, which are packed with powerful proteins that, when released, destroy surrounding tissues and help rally other immune cells to infection sites.

Doctors had long known that this type of immune cell appeared in large numbers at sites of allergic inflammation of the digestive tract. But the new study is the first to show the cells causing disease rather than acting as innocent bystanders. Researchers said identification of eosinophils as a major cause of digestive inflammation means that drugs that counteract these cells could be effective in treating some food allergies and related diseases.

Compiled by Times medical writer Thomas H. Maugh II

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