New treat­ment could re­duce chil­dren’s peanut al­ler­gies

The Times Herald (Norristown, PA) - - HEALTH - By MARIA CHENG

LON­DON — An ex­per­i­men­tal ther­apy that fed chil­dren with peanut al­ler­gies small amounts of peanut flour has helped more than 80 per­cent of them safely eat a hand­ful of the pre­vi­ously wor­ri­some nuts.

Al­though ex­perts say the re­sults of the care­fully mon­i­tored study are en­cour­ag­ing, they warn it isn’t some­thing that par­ents should try at home.

Peanut al­ler­gies are on the rise glob­ally and af­fect about 1 in 50 chil­dren, mostly in high­in­come coun­tries. The con­se­quences can be life-threat­en­ing — peanuts are the most com­mon cause of fatal food al­lergy re­ac­tions. There is no way to avoid a re­ac­tion other than just avoid­ing peanuts. Al­lergy shots used for en­vi­ron­men­tal trig­gers like pollen are too risky.

Doc­tors at Ad­den­brooke’s Hos­pi­tal in Cam­bridge started by giv­ing 99 chil­dren aged seven to 16 with se­vere peanut al­ler­gies a tiny 2-mil­ligram dose of a spe­cial peanut flour mixed into their food. Slowly they in­creased that amount to 800 mil­ligrams. The dose in­creases were given at a re­search fa­cil­ity where the chil­dren were ob­served for any dan­ger­ous side ef­fects — the most fre­quent were itch­i­ness in the mouth, stom­ach pains or nau­sea.

Af­ter six months of treat­ment, more than 80 per­cent of the chil­dren can now safely eat five peanuts at a time.

“This made a dra­matic dif­fer­ence to their lives,” said Dr. An­drew Clark of the Univer­sity of Cam­bridge in Bri­tain, who led the re­search. “Be­fore the study, they could not even tol­er­ate tiny bits of peanuts and their par­ents had to read food la­bels con­tin­u­ously.”

The in­ten­tion of the treat­ment isn’t to help kids eat large amounts of peanuts, but to pre­vent a life-threat­en­ing al­ler­gic re­ac­tion in case they ac­ci­den­tally eat trace amounts.

Clark said the treat­ment works by re­train­ing the pa­tients’ im­mune sys­tems so they can grad­u­ally build up a tol­er­ance to peanuts, though he guessed they might need to keep tak­ing it for sev­eral years. He and col­leagues plan to of­fer the treat­ment soon in a spe­cial peanut al­lergy clinic as well as be­gin­ning larger stud­ies.

The study was paid for by Bri­tain’s Med­i­cal Re­search Coun­cil and the Na­tional In­sti­tute for Health Re­search. It was pub­lished online Thurs­day in the jour­nal, Lancet.

In an ac­com­pa­ny­ing com­men­tary, Matthew Green­hawt of the Univer­sity of Michi­gan de­scribed the study’s re­sults as “ex­cep­tion­ally promis­ing” but pre­dicted the treat­ment was still “years away from rou­tine clin­i­cal use.” He noted that pre­vi­ous re­search which used a sim­i­lar ap­proach for milk al­ler­gies had failed and said it was un­known if the peanut ther­apy could pro­duce “last­ing tol­er­ance.”

Un­like other childhood food al­ler­gies, chil­dren rarely out­grow a nut al­lergy. Schools across Canada and the United States have taken a host of mea­sures to com­bat the prob­lem, some air­lines have stopped serv­ing pack­aged nuts and there’s been a fierce de­bate over whether peanut but­ter should be banned from schools.

Lena Bar­den, 12, used to suf­fer se­ri­ous swelling and breath­ing prob­lems af­ter eat­ing just a trace amounts of nuts. But since she joined the study more than two years ago, Bar­den’s tol­er­ance has grown and she now eats five peanuts a day. While Bar­den says she still hates peanuts, the trial has al­lowed her to in­dulge in pre­vi­ously for­bid­den treats.

“I’d never tried a dough­nut be­fore I was 11 be­cause they (could) con­tain traces of nuts,” she said.

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