peanut allergies, food allergies
Gerry Broome/AP
A girl mixes peanut powder with a fruit roll-up before taking her daily dosage in Raleigh,
N.C., Thursday, Dec. 21, 2006. A study at Duke University is trying to help children with
peanut allergies tolerate at least a little exposure.

Could Desensitization Be Cure for Deadly Nut Allergies?

February 23, 2009 06:01 PM
by Emily Coakley
A new study shows promise in treating people with peanut allergies using a technique being tested in other labs around the world.

Desensitizing Gets Promising Results

A British study published in the journal Allergy gave four children with life-threatening peanut allergies small doses of peanut flour for several months, allowing their bodies to build a tolerance. The doses started at five milligrams and were increased to the equivalent of five peanuts, Reuters reported.

As Scientific American’s blog reported, even after the study, the children couldn’t eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but they could tolerate accidentally eating a peanut. Another 18 children and adolescents are participating in the program.

The researchers at Addenbrooke Hospital aren’t the only ones using desensitization to treat severe peanut allergies. Duke University and Arkansas Children’s Hospital have treated about 40 children with the same method, according to Scientific American. The research results, which haven’t been published yet, are promising.

“Of the 10 kids who have been followed for more than 30 months, half have been able to stop the therapy and are able to eat peanut products, deliberately or as ingredients in other foods,” Scientific American reported.

Scott Sircher, an associate pediatrics professor at Mount Sinai Medical Center, tells Scientific American the British study “is exciting,” but reminds people that “this is not something to try at home.”

Background: Treating allergies

What the researchers at Duke, Arkansas Children’s Hospital and Addenbrooke Hospital are doing is a variation of a standard allergy treatment called immunotherapy.

According to an April 2008 release from National Jewish Medical and Research Center, “Allergists treating hay fever and other allergies have long used immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots, to reduce their patients’ sensitivity to pollen, cat and dog dander, and dust mites. However, it is not considered safe to give allergy shots to food-allergic patients because the shots can cause severe allergic reactions.”

NJMRC is part of the same study in which Duke and Arkansas Children’s Hospital are participating.

In Europe, the Food Allergy Specific Therapy research project involves giving participants purified proteins thought to create allergies to fish and fruit, two of the most common problem foods there, ScienceDaily reported in December.

“The risk of unintentional exposure due to cross-contamination of foods, or while eating in restaurants or at parties, will decrease. This will take away a lot of the anxiety that has a negative impact on the quality of life of food allergy sufferers,” said Dr. Ronald van Ree of the University of Amsterdam’s Academic Medical Center, according to ScienceDaily.

So much progress is being made on food allergy research that in 2006 the Guardian newspaper quoted van Ree as saying, “Therapies for food allergy will be on the market within seven to 10 years.”

Related Topic: Protecting people from peanuts

Thousands of schools ban all nut products, and even some ballparks have “peanut-free zones,” while the discovery of a single peanut on a school bus led to an evacuation. While acknowledging the potentially deadly nature of a peanut allergy, Nicholas Christakis, a doctor, wrote an article in the British Medical Journal last year on peanut hysteria.

Each year, 150 people die because of a food-related allergy, but “2,000 children drown a year; and 1,300 die in firearms accidents,” says findingDulcinea.

“The issue is not whether nut allergies exist or whether they can occasionally be serious. Nor is the issue whether reasonable accommodation should be made for the few children who have documented serious allergies. The issue is what accounts for the extreme responses to nut allergies and what to do about the responses and the allergies themselves,” Christakis told the Daily Telegraph.

Reference: Allergy Web Guide


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