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Erin Steinbach, MD, PhD

The primary research goal in Dr. Steinbach’s lab is to understand how intestinal epithelial cell (IEC) barrier dysfunction (“leaky gut”) contributes to peanut allergy pathogenesis. To this end, Dr. Steinbach’s lab works to define the peanut allergy-associated IEC regulatory landscape as a mechanism of barrier dysfunction. Subsequent identification of biomarkers and molecular signatures will be linked to clinical outcomes in peanut allergy and offer insights into peanut allergy pathogenesis.

Peanut allergy is the number one cause of death from food-related anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction). For reasons that are not completely understood, new cases of peanut allergy in children and adults have been rising in the past few decades. Only about 1 in 5 children will out-grow their allergy and be able to eat peanuts safely. That means 4 out of 5 peanut-allergic children will have a life-long peanut allergy. There is no cure for peanut allergy. Research suggests that when someone with peanut allergy has increased IEC (gut) barrier permeability, they are more likely to have anaphylaxis to peanut. To understand who this affects and how to stop or reverse it, we need to know more about how peanut allergy affects the IEC barrier.

Dr. Steinbach’s lab uses a combination of human and animal studies to perform ‘omics analyses, primary tissue cell culture, and molecular biology, to investigate the mechanisms of how peanut allergy affects IEC barrier function. The lab uses a novel Collaborative Cross mouse model of peanut allergy, where the mice are genetically susceptible to peanut allergy by eating peanut without an adjuvant (a “boost” to make it more likely that an allergy develops).

The Collaborative Cross origin allows for genome-wide mapping of quantitative trait loci (QTL) that contribute to peanut allergy susceptibility or severity. Additionally, Dr. Steinbach’s lab is starting a registry and tissue bank (including intestinal biopsies) from pediatric patients with peanut allergy to translate findings to human disease. Ultimately through her research, Dr. Steinbach wants to be able to predict which patients are at high risk for anaphylaxis to peanut and target the IEC barrier to treat or prevent peanut allergy.