ALLERGIC reactions to peanuts could one day be as mild as hayfever, say Deakin University researchers who have established that peanut proteins form ''super allergens''.
With his team from the school of life and environmental sciences, Cenk Suphioglu has taken a novel ''whole nut'' approach - looking at the peanut's allergens and its non-allergens to establish how the proteins interact with the body's natural immune system.
''Good proteins can turn bad and play a very devious role,'' he said. ''We're trying to reveal their true identity at a molecular level.''
Peanut allergies affect about 1 per cent of the population and can be deadly.
In a paper to be submitted for publication in the US-based Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Dr Suphioglu outlined the structure of peanut proteins, which were sticky because of their carbohydrate content. This meant they could clump together, probably in the stomach and intestine.
''We have now shown that they form these super allergens, which for the first time explains how they interact with the immune system,'' he said. The body overreacts to the ''super allergens'' by producing more histamines, which brings about the anaphylactic reaction.
''It's a fault in the system, it's a hyper-reaction,'' he said.
The next question for his research team was how to reduce the release of histamine by the body's immune system.
''If we can do this then we can take away the life-threatening element of the peanut allergies and make it more like a pollen reaction,'' he said.
Dr Suphioglu, of Deakin University's Allergy Research Laboratory, said the signs were promising. His research has already identified a novel molecule that reduces the interaction between a major peanut allergen and human antibodies, cutting histamine release and minimising the allergic reaction.
This could lead to the making of a special peanut extract, to be used for safer diagnosis of peanut allergies and treatment.