Hard to Swallow Food Allergy Gets Identified

Biomarkers discovered for eosinophilic esophagitis

(RxWiki News) Food allergies can limit what you eat and can be quite painful. A new study has identified a way to help diagnose and treat a painful food allergy that affects the esophagus.

Eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE) occurs when a food allergy causes an increase in the level of the white blood cells called eosinophils, in the esophagus. This reaction can cause weight loss, inflammation, vomiting and difficulty swallowing. Researchers have discovered a genetic marker that signals the presence of eosinophilic esophagitis.

"Talk to your doctor about the different diseases that affect the esophagus."

The study was led by Marc E. Rothenberg, M.D., Ph.D., director of Allergy and Immunology and the Center for Eosinophilic Disorders at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. Researchers targeted a microRNA that regulates protein development that is present during EoE. By looking for this genetic marker, researchers can determine if a treatment is effective or the severity of EoE.

Researchers examined microRNA presence in active EoE, steroid treated EoE,  chronic esophagitis that was not caused by eosinophils,  and healthy individuals. The scientists discovered 32 different microRNA strands, found in individuals with active EoE, that can be used to identify EoE.

The microRNA strands associated with EoE were different from microRNA associated with chronic esophagitis, which means doctors can be certain a patient is suffering from EoE and not another disease that affects the esophagus. In EoE that was treated with steroids, the dysregulated microRNA strands were behaving normally. Researchers are optimistic about this discovery because they can use the biomarkers to diagnose EoE or determine if a treatment has caused EoE to go into remission. 

While this study focused on children with EoE, the disease can occur in people of all ages. According to researchers, EoE is more common in young males who have other allergy-related diseases like asthma and eczema.

The presence of genetic markers for EoE can lead to better diagnosis that can catch the disease earlier. According to the researchers, current EoE treatment includes the use of anesthesia and invasive endoscopy to diagnose and treat the disease. With biomarkers, EoE can be diagnosed and monitored using blood tests which are less invasive and cheaper for families.

The rate of incidence for EoE is on the rise, much like the increased number of allergy cases in children, conclude the researchers. EoE occurs in approximately one in 1,000 children and that number can increase in the coming years. Being able to diagnosis EoE early will lead to improvements in quality of life and disease management. 

The study was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the Campaign Urging Research for Eosinophilic Disease, the Food Allergy Initiative and the Buckeye Foundation.

This study was published in the March edition of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

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Review Date: 
March 12, 2012