With the number of people with peanut allergies rising dramatically over the past few decades, scientists around the world are searching for potential causes. It’s still not known what causes people to develop a food allergy. Much of this research has focused on the potential link between ‘gene flaws’ and peanut allergies. As the BBC reported, an international research team has announced a ‘significant breakthrough’ in understanding the cause of peanut allergies (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-tayside-central-12698727).
According to scientists on the research team, they have identified a gene defect that may triple the risk of a child becoming allergic to peanuts. The gene they identified, known as Filaggrin, is also known to be a factor in asthma and eczema, among other conditions.
Dr. Sara Brown of Dundee University said that allergic conditions often run in families, telling the researchers that “inherited genetic factors are important.” In addition, the recently skyrocketing rate of allergies points to possible environmental causes.
The researchers’ findings are significant because it’s the first genetic factor that can be linked firmly to peanut allergies. They discovered that the Filaggrin gene is involved in how well the skin serves as a barrier against allergens. Changes in the gene allow allergens to enter the body. The study suggests about 20% of those with peanut allergies have a defect in the Filaggrin gene.
While this is a factor in many cases, the Filaggrin defect is not the only cause behind peanut allergies. Professor McLean, a member of the research team, concluded that because researchers can only point to Filaggrin defects in 20% of peanut allergy cases, there is still a lot of work to be done to understand fully the causes of peanut allergies.