Patients with alpha-gal allergy, characterized by delayed anaphylaxis to mammalian meat, have been described across the globe, yet we have limited understanding of the mechanisms underlying this condition. Dr. Iweala’s lab, working in conjunction with the Commins lab, wants to strengthen our understanding of the basic mechanisms of pathogenesis of alpha-gal allergic syndrome. The red meat allergy is associated with tick bites and specific IgE antibody to the oligosaccharide galactose-α-1,3-galactose (alpha-gal). Alpha-gal food allergy challenges the current paradigm for food allergy because reactions are usually delayed 3 to 6 hours following meat ingestion; IgE antibodies are against a carbohydrate moiety rather than a protein; and the allergy can develop in adulthood after many years of safely tolerating red meat. The lipid content of ingested meat appears to impact reaction consistency and severity. The ability of lipids to promote allergenic responses has also been described in fruit and pollen allergies. Thus, Dr. Iweala’s lab is interested in exploring the role of glycolipids and unconventional T cells in alpha-gal allergy with the vision of broadening our understanding of glycolipids and unconventional T cells in hypersensitivity disorders. We are also investigating the links between tick exposure and immune cell modulation.
Additional interests of the Iweala lab include studying the epigenetic regulation of type 2 and regulatory immunity. We are exploring the role of the histone H3 lysine 27 (H3K27) demethylase UTX in mouse models of allergic sensitization and parasitic gastrointestinal helminth infection. We are also examining the role of this epigenetic factor in immune responses to parenteral vaccination.
We are also initiating clinical studies on non-clonal mast cell activation syndrome. We are working to characterize and understand the epidemiology of patients seeking clinical evaluation for mast cell activation syndromes.