A new nasal vaccine has shown the ability to address peanut allergies in mice after just three monthly doses, providing hope that a similar treatment could someday prove effective on humans dealing with peanut allergies.

The immunization redirected how immune cells responded to peanuts, activating a different type of immune response that prevents allergic symptoms.

“We're changing the way the immune cells respond upon exposure to allergens,” lead author Jessica O'Konek, PhD, a research investigator at the Mary H. Weiser Food Allergy Center at the University of Michigan, said in a statement. “Importantly, we can do this after allergy is established, which provides for potential therapy of allergies in humans. By re-directing the immune responses, our vaccine not only suppresses the response but prevents the activation of cells that would initiate allergic reactions.”

The mice models used in the study responded to peanut allergies similarly to affected humans, with symptoms that included itchy skin and trouble breathing. The study assessed protection from allergic reactions two weeks after the final dose of vaccine was administered.

The researchers will continue studies to determine the duration of protection, but there is hope of one day creating a vaccine for humans plagued by peanut allergies.

“Right now, the only [Food and Drug Administration] approved way to address food allergy is to avoid the food or suppress allergic reactions after they have already started,” O'Konek said. “Our goal is to use immunotherapy to change the immune system's response by developing a therapeutic vaccine for food allergies.”

During an allergic reaction, the body's immune system overreacts to an allergen that is an otherwise harmless protein. Allergen immunotherapy attempts to retrain the immune system to tolerate the allergen.

The researchers now plan to conduct additional studies on the mice to better understand the mechanisms responsible for the suppression of food allergies and learn whether protection from peanut allergies can be extended for an even longer period.

“Food allergy has exploded in prevalence and incidence but we still know so little about it because there hasn't been that much research in the field,” senior author Dr. James Baker, Jr., director of the U-M Mary H. Weiser Food Allergy Center and CEO of Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), said in a statement. “This research is also teaching us more about how food allergies develop and the science behind what needs to change in the immune system to treat them.”

According to FARE, peanut allergies affects nearly 15 million people in the U.S.