Taking inspiration from the groundbreaking vaccines used during the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers at UCLA are exploring a new method to treat peanut allergies.

Scientists at the university have developed a “nanoparticle” that delivers mRNA to liver cells in an attempt to “teach” the immune system to tolerate the protein found in peanuts that is responsible for causing allergic reactions in 1 out of every 50 children.

The technology has already been used in mice with success in reducing the seriousness of an allergic reaction, researchers said. The treatment also appeared to stop peanut allergies from developing.

The mRNA treatment, while in its early stages, could open the door for new treatments of allergies. Currently, there’s only one approved treatment for preventing peanut allergies and it can take months to work.

The nanoparticle is so small that it’s measured in billionths of a meter. The liver was chosen as the site of the mRNA delivery, because the organ is regularly “bombarded with foreign substances” and is full of cells that are responsible for training the immune system.

André Nel, director of research at the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA and a contributing author in the study, said this research appears to be the very first of its kind to use mRNA as a method of treating allergic disease.

“We’ve shown that our platform can work to calm peanut allergies, and we believe it may be able to do the same for other allergens, in food and drugs, as well as autoimmune conditions,” Nel said.

The research is built upon previous studies conducted by Nel and his research partners in recent years.

Nel hopes that this new technology could advance to clinical trials in as soon as three years and his lab is getting ready to regulate the process required for trials.

He also hopes that this new method could lead to breakthroughs in the treatment of other allergies and autoimmune disorders.

UCLA researchers are already exploring whether this nanoparticle technology could be used to treat type 1 diabetes — an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas.

An epitope, which researchers say is a “carefully selected protein fragment,” was identified for use in the nanoparticle treatment of peanut allergies. Important epitopes that trigger an immune attack in patients with type 1 diabetes have already been identified by previous research, UCLA said.

To read the complete study published on the National Library of Medicine archive, click here.