North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University continues to lead the charge against peanut allergies, as evidenced by its recent $500,000 grant from the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) for researching new immunotherapies.

In the U.S., approximately 3 million people report mild to severe allergies to peanuts and tree nuts. Studies show the number of children living with peanut allergy appears to have tripled between 1997 and 2008.

“A&T is continuing to build its capacity in peanut allergen research, and we are extremely pleased to be able to explore a new approach to what is for many people, a dangerous, and even life-threatening issue,” said Dr. Leonard Williams, director of the Center for Excellence in Post-Harvest Technologies, who is leading the study, “Retraining the immune system; mitigating allergic responses using allergen-reduced peanut protein-polyphenol aggregates.”

Food scientists from N.C. State’s Plants for Human Health Institute are also on the research team, contributing expertise in food engineering and analysis. The study will be conducted at the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis, and builds on previous work conducted there by A&T and N.C. State.

N.C. A&T has seen other successes in peanut allergy research. In 2014, the University licensed its patented post-harvest technology to Greensboro-based Alrgn Bio. The company is working closely with the scientific community to develop and commercialize a reduced allergen peanut process that would be available to food companies. The process could potentially be used to make peanut-based foods safer, thereby reducing the risk of accidental exposure while benefiting peanut processors, growers and consumers alike.

Williams’ study involves entirely different technologies to address peanut allergies by exploring the issue from the standpoint of treatments to desensitize the immune system of individuals. His research team will combine peanut-skin flour with chemicals from cranberries, black currants, and other plants, and characterize their bioactivity in laboratory, animal and human clinical tests. The Center recently reported that peanut skin extracts can significantly reduce belly fat in animal models.

The Center for Excellence in Post-Harvest Technologies is administered by the School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at N.C. A&T in Greensboro, N.C. The university is an 1890 land-grant doctoral research institution dedicated to learning, discovery and community engagement.