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17 Oct 2019

Dr Sidonia Eckle wins grant to look at how MAIT cells affect food allergies

Dr Sidonia Eckle has been awarded a 2019 Allergy and Immunology Foundations of Australasia (AIFA) Food Allergy Research Grant of $40,000 to further her research looking at how mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) cells affect food allergies.

Food allergies affect 1-10 per cent of individuals world-wide and are particularly prevalent in Australia. The current approach to manage food allergies is avoiding the allergy-causing food. The underlying mechanisms of food allergies are mostly unknown, particularly for those allergies that are classified as T cell-mediated.

Mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) cells are a recently described, abundant subset of T cells. MAIT cells protect from bacterial pathogens by recognising small molecule, vitamin B2-based metabolites, produced by most bacteria.

Given that MAIT cells are hardwired to respond to a small molecule metabolite as part of their protective immune function, it is tantalising to speculate that MAIT cells by mistake might also recognise small molecule food metabolites and this way cause allergic reactions to food.

Dr Eckle’s team will determine in healthy individuals if MAIT cells are tolerant to food metabolites. They will also determine if the relevant allergic reaction is mediated by MAIT cells in patients with food allergies.

“We have been studying the protective role of MAIT cells in the context of microbial infections. More recently we also demonstrated that MAIT cells might play a role in drug allergies,” Dr Eckle said.

“Supported by the AIFA grant, with my co-investigators Dr Marcela de Lima Moreira and Dr Liyen Loh are now excited to explore whether MAIT cells might play a role in food allergies.”

This project will provide a fundamental understanding of the potential implication of MAIT cells in food allergies and inform the design of future therapies targeted at MAIT cells. This would represent a novel approach alongside the current efforts to develop treatments for allergies.

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