Scientists Edge Closer To Curing Peanut Allergies

Roxana Bashyrova, via Shutterstock.

A promising new treatment for individuals with peanut allergies has been trialed on a group of children in Australia, and the results are certainly encouraging. Around 80% of the children given the experimental therapy over an 18-month period became tolerant to peanuts after the treatment was stopped. Although it’s unclear at this stage how long the effects last, the researchers are encouraged by the results and believe the study represents important steps towards developing a long-term cure for potentially fatal peanut allergies.

Food allergies are on the rise in developed nations, but scientists aren’t sure exactly why this is happening. Between 1997 and 2011, food allergies in children increased by around 50%. Eight foods account for around 90% of all reactions, including wheat, milk, shellfish and peanuts. The latter is among the most common food allergies, affecting around 1% of people in the U.S. and as many as 3% of children in Australia.

Although most allergic reactions aren’t life threatening, even trace amounts can trigger a response, some of which can lead to a severe reaction known as anaphylaxis where blood pressure drops and the airways swell, causing breathing difficulties and death without treatment. With more and more children at risk of having a reaction to food, there is a clear need to develop treatments that prevent these potentially life-threatening events from occurring.

One group that is striving to achieve this is based at Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, and the researchers here have already made significant progress towards this goal. Their therapy comes in the form of a probiotic, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, combined with a daily dose of peanut protein. The amount of probiotic was fixed, but the peanut protein was increased every two weeks until a maintenance dose of 2 grams was reached. The idea behind the treatment, which is a form of immunotherapy, is to modify the allergic response through gradual exposure to the allergen, so that harmful responses become protective responses.

The therapy was trialed on 28 children, alongside 28 children given a placebo, for 18 months. Two weeks after the study finished, the children were assessed for their ability to tolerate peanuts by repeatedly exposing them to the allergen for three weeks. They found that more than 82% of the children treated with the immunotherapy could include peanuts in their diet by the end of the trial, compared to only 3.6% of the placebo group. While these results are certainly encouraging, the researchers acknowledge that further study is warranted to determine whether the tolerance is long-term.

Meanwhile, a French biopharmaceutical company, DBV Technologies, has also made significant progress towards the ultimate goal of ending peanut allergies with their innovative new “Viaskin” patch. This quarter-size disc, which is adhered to the skin, also delivers small amounts of peanut extract to allergy sufferers in order to gradually sensitize them. During clinical trials, participants given the patch could tolerate 10 more peanuts than they could before. As reported in Fast Co Exist, the product is due to shortly reach the final stage of clinical trials and could be on the market by 2018.

[Via MCRI, ABC and Fast Co Exist

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