Anyone with a serious allergy knows just how scary it can be to try a new restaurant, fly on a plane, or engage in a range of everyday activities that open them up to a risk of an allergic reaction. And although there hasn’t been a cure for food allergies yet, scientists are studying a new treatment that could help reduce the severity of peanut allergies in people whose allergies are life-threatening. Called immunotherapy, the treatment would help build up patients’ tolerance to peanuts gradually, conditioning them to tolerate peanuts over time.
Immunotherapy could be the first FDA-approved therapy treatment for peanut allergies.
- 1.2 million children have peanut allergies, according to data cited by MedPage Today
- According to the same data, “Among babies under the age of 1 year, one of the studies showed a roughly three-fold increase in peanut allergy between 2001 and 2017”
- The most common comorbidities (other conditions affecting people with peanut allergies) are eczema (63%), asthma (61%), and other food allergies (35%), according to MedPage
66 different sites participated in the study, which used a peanut derived immunotherapy drug called AR101, according to an article from Stanford University. Participants ingested the drug, first with a small dose and then gradually increasing the amount, which helps build up immune system tolerance to peanuts. The Stanford article included a Q&A with Dr. Sharon Chinthrajah, one of the researchers, who explained that the treatment helped patients with a serious allergy tolerate small amounts of peanuts, lessening their risk of dangerous consequences in the event that an accidental ingestion of peanuts, or contamination of food by the allergen.
It’s Not a Cure
While the findings are exciting, Chinthrajah was careful to emphasize that there’s still a lot more research necessary to find a cure for peanut allergies. Two out of every three participants who underwent one year of immunotherapy were able to tolerate two peanuts, which is exciting progress, but it’s not the same as being able to eat them freely and without concern. That said, Chinthrajah is hoping we can get to a point where food allergies are a thing of the past. She noted that the team is committed to finding “an approach to permanently change the immune system so that it no longer reacts to food in an abnormal way.”
In the meantime, immunotherapy is an exciting area of research for people who suffer from severe food allergies. Here were a few more takeaways from the article:
- While the research only focused on adolescents and children with peanut allergies, but researchers have seen effective treatment in patients of all ages
- The team at Stanford doesn’t recommend at-home desensitization–it’s much safer under the guidance of an allergist
- Researchers are looking into other forms of administering the immunotherapy, including a patch that delivers mini doses of the peanuts via patients’ skin
Edmond Chan, an allergist at the University of British Columbia, penned a similarly-encouraging article in Toronto.com about a study of Canadian child patients who underwent immunotherapy in a doctor’s office, rather than in clinical trials, and had positive results. In his study, 270 kids underwent the therapy, and it was successful for 243 of them (90%). Only 0.4% of participants experienced an allergic reaction, and after 40,000 doses were delivered, epinephrine was only delivered 12 times.
Great News for Parents of Kids with Food Allergies
Overall, the results of both of these studies are incredibly heartening. Immunotherapy may not be a cure, but it does ease some of the stress of having a life-threatening food allergy.