News - December 14, 2016

Fighting cow’s milk allergy with … cow’s milk

Albert Sikkema

If you intensely heat milk proteins, it often will not cause any allergic reaction in children with milk allergy. PhD candidate Fahui Liu investigated how the milk allergens change when heated. This study might bring about a therapy to help children get over their milk allergy faster.

<photo: Shutterstock>

Infants with milk allergy currently have only one choice: avoiding cow’s milk entirely. However, before the parents discover the allergy, the infant has often already had abdominal cramps for several months. In addition, they need to ban all foods containing milk proteins from that moment on. Although, all foods? It seems not to be the case. An American research showed that when you ‘bake’ (intensely heat) milk proteins in products such as pizzas and muffins, these will often not cause any allergic reaction in children with cow’s milk allergy. Fahui Liu investigated what causes this phenomenon.

The Chinese PhD candidate selected milk allergens and studied their chemical and physical properties during heating. He also examined another effect of intense heating: children who consume intensely heated milk products show a faster development of immune tolerance for the milk proteins and thus take less time to outgrow their cow’s milk allergy. Liu unravelled several mechanisms that could be involved in the process of decrease of allergenicity and increase in tolerance caused by heating, says his supervisor Kasper Hettinga. Three Wageningen research groups will build upon this knowledge together with Erasmus MC in an STW project that has already started.

Clinical study
The researchers will continue to study the properties of milk proteins and perform a clinical study with allergic children, to ascertain whether the children really outgrow their cow’s milk allergy faster with intensely heated dairy products. The results could have a significant impact for allergic patients and companies that want to provide in allergy-free dairy products or therapies for cow’s milk allergy, says Hettinga.

Fahui Liu will receive his doctorate on 20 December from Tiny van Boekel, professor in Product Design and Quality Management, and Harry Wichers, professor in Immune modulation by food.