Fighting Fire with Fire

Exposing severly allergic children to progressively larger amounts of peanut flour desensitizes them over time, a study shows.

By | January 30, 2014

WIKIMEDIA, ALICE WELCHIt’s a frightening thought: deliberately feeding peanut protein to severely allergic children. But that approach has actually fought back children’s allergic reactions, according to results from a study published in The Lancet today (January 30). “We’ve shown fantastic results, with 80 [percent] to 90 percent of children being able to tolerate eating peanuts regularly after treatment,” lead researcher Andrew Clark of Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, UK, told New Scientist.

Clark and his colleagues fed several dozen kids peanut flour in tiny amounts—just 2 milligrams (mg) to begin with—and gradually increased the daily dose to 800 mg over a course of six months. By the end of the study, 84 percent of participants could safely eat several peanuts’ worth of the protein at a time. “It’s huge, absolutely huge,” Maureen Jenkins, the director of clinical services at Allergy UK, told New Scientist. “There hasn’t been any way of treating this before.”

The scientists caution that this should not be used as a home remedy to treat peanut allergy, and said that it’s too soon to know whether the approach will work outside of a research setting. There were many more allergic events among the kids in the treatment group than those in the control group. It’s also not clear how durable the effect is. In their paper, the authors wrote: “It is probable that long-term peanut protein ingestion will be needed to provide continued protection from accidental exposure, perhaps for several years.”

There are a number of unanswered questions that will need to be worked out, such as the optimal dose and whether the children will suffer any long term consequences, pointed out Hugh Sampson, an allergy researcher at Mount Sinai Hospital. He told Science that “while this study adds to the growing data on the potential utility of oral immunotherapy for treating food allergy, I am not sure that this study brings us closer to the answers.”

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Avatar of: Paul Stein

Paul Stein

Posts: 237

February 1, 2014

This research treatment makes good immunological sense.  Frankly, I'm surprised it hasn't been tried long, long ago.

Avatar of: Mctiggs


Posts: 1

February 1, 2014

This is a situation fraught with danger. i have a severe peanutallergy, and have been hospitalized multiple times with aniphilactic reactions to the smallest particle of peanut allergin.  I'm sure I'm not unique, and that exposing people to this type of serious medical dangers in unwarranted.  I remember a doctor giving me the tiniest drop of peanut allergin.  It caused my arm to blow up as if a football was buried beneath my arm.  The next step was for the doctor to pump me full of adrenalin and check me for the next 4 hours to make sure I didn't go into cardiac arrest.  Some people cannot be desensitized.  To this day I have severe problems being even within breathing distance of peanut butter.  Please consider the fact that  people could die from this risky experiment.  I almost did too manyu times to count.  Why do this neeedlessly?  Bad Medicine.

Avatar of: johndossantos


Posts: 1

February 15, 2014

I've heard of similar treatment being used for penicillin allergies when other antibiotic options are not available.

If this treatment can "cure" 80-90 percent of children of their peanut allergy, I think that's fantastic. It will save them & their parents a lifetime of worry & more.

It's stated that it's an oral treatment. The immune system is supposed to recognize orally consumed proteins as non-threatening. By administering "safe" oral doses, I think the idea is to re-train the immune system to recognize peanut proteins as non-threatening.

Of course this treatment is "fraught with danger," which is why the article warns "There were many more allergic events among the kids in the treatment group than those in the control group." Also, "The scientists caution that this should not be used as a home remedy to treat peanut allergy."

However, this treatment is meant for children, who likely have had fewer exposures to peanuts and would hopefully have less severe reactions than an adult.

In the end, the benefits must outweigh the risks, and it appears that there is good potential for that considering there are "unanswered questions that will need to be worked out."

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