Detecting food allergies by screening cytokine production

The current range of allergy tests, both skin prick and blood, are notoriously inaccurate and unreliable. However, MIT chemical engineer Christopher Love has developed a new technology (described in the June 7 issue of the journal Lab on a Chip), which can analyze individual immune cells taken from patients, allowing for precise measurement of the cells' response to allergens such as milk and peanuts.

Love's new technology screens the patient's immune cells for small proteins known as cytokines. Immune cells such as T cells produce cytokines when an allergic response is initiated, attracting other cells to join in the response.

To perform the test, blood must be drawn from the patient, and white blood cells (which include T cells) are isolated from the sample.

The cells are exposed to a potential allergen and then placed into about 100,000 individual wells arranged in a lattice pattern on a soft rubber surface. Using a technique known as microengraving, the researchers make "prints" of the cytokines produced by each cell onto the surface of a glass slide. The amount of cytokine secreted by each individual cell can be precisely measured.

However, that clinical studies are now needed to demonstrate the ability to accurately diagnose food allergies

Meanwhile, Love is working with the Children's Hospital Boston, on a study in which children with milk allergies are being given small amounts of milk to desensitize their immune systems to the milk. Using the new technology, the team is tracking how the responses of the patients' cells change as the patients undergo treatment.

Qing Han, Elizabeth M. Bradshaw, Björn Nilsson, David A. Hafler, J. Christopher Love. Multidimensional analysis of the frequencies and rates of cytokine secretion from single cells by quantitative microengraving. Lab on a Chip, 2010; 10 (11): 1391 DOI: 10.1039/b926849a

Courtesy Science Daily

First Published in May 2010


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