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Chemical found in some herbs and plants may be able to treat food allergies

Formononetin is found in several plants and herbs.

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Sandwiches with peanut butter in plate on wooden table
(Photo by Chatham172 via Shutterstock)

By Stephen Beech via SWNS

A chemical that naturally occurs in some herbs and plants may be able to treat potentially deadly food allergies, according to a new study.

Formononetin is found in several plants and herbs, including red clover, and predominantly occurs in leguminous plants, particularly in beans, such as green beans, lima beans, soy and many others.

Researchers in the United States combined advanced computational methods with experimental studies to gain new insight, at the cell level, into how the plant compound might be used to treat food allergies.

Around one-in-10 adults are affected by potentially fatal food allergies.

Formononetin has been previously shown to have anti-cancer properties. It is a phytoestrogen, meaning that it has a structure similar to the hormone oestrogen and can bind to the body’s oestrogen receptors.

Ibrahim Musa, a doctoral candidate in pathology, microbiology and immunology at New York Medical College, said: “Our findings show that formononetin is a particularly good therapeutic candidate for treating food allergies.

“Our research also revealed new mechanisms and targets that can be utilised to design future drugs for treating food allergies and other allergic disorders or to prevent severe anaphylaxis seen in allergic diseases.”

He explained that food allergies occur when the immune system treats a food or something in a food as a threat.

That causes the immune system to produce immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies that react to the food and can cause allergy symptoms such as itching, hives, asthma, breathing difficulties or diarrhoea.

In previous studies, scientists identified formononetin as a potential therapeutic for allergies because it decreased IgE production.

To find out more, the researchers turned to an approach known as systems pharmacology, which involves using data from publicly available databases to identify gene and protein targets regulated in food allergy and mast cells diseases.

Mast cells also play an important role in IgE-mediated allergic diseases.

Once they identified gene and protein targets, the researchers validated them using cultured cell lines that are commonly used in allergy studies.

Mr Musa said that the cell experiments showed that formononetin did influence the expression of gene and protein targets identified using systems pharmacology.

He added: “Our study demonstrates that system pharmacology can be used to predict drug compound–target interaction.

“What’s more, the mechanism of action identified for formononetin is also important for other allergic diseases such as allergic asthma and hay fever.

"This suggests that formononetin or other therapeutic candidates that decrease IgE production could be useful for treating these diseases.”

The researchers have developed a mouse model of peanut allergy that they plan to use to study formononetin and identify potential side effects.

The findings are due to be presented at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology annual meeting in Philadelphia on Tuesday [April 5].

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