The warnings are abundant, especially in schools today: "Food brought in may not contain peanuts." The allergic reaction to the nut is particularly severe, prompting such safety precautions. However, new tests being done may just yield a cure to the allergy.
A team of doctors from Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, England, is about to launch a three-year study that they hope could lead to a treatment for peanut allergies in children.
The randomized, controlled study will replicate previous trials in which the researchers gave peanut-allergy sufferers five milligrams a day of peanut flour and gradually built up their tolerance over the course of six months. By the end of the six months, children were able to tolerate the equivalent of five peanuts a day – a remarkable gain given that even trace amounts can trigger severe adverse reactions in allergy sufferers.
Set to begin next month, the new project will follow 100 children ages seven to 17 over the course of three years. The process of gradually building up a tolerance is called “desensitization.” It is not a permanent cure, but the doctors believe that as long as desensitized patients continue taking a daily dose of peanuts, they will continue to maintain their tolerance.
The study will be led by Dr. Andrew Clark, who emphasized that parents should not attempt this without medical supervision. He presented his research at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Diego. He believes that within two to three years there will be “a treatment that works, but we are still working on a long-term cure.”
Last year, researchers at Duke University Medical Center and Arkansas Children's Hospital reported similar results, noting that “initial desensitization treatments are real,” but emphasizing that the research is ongoing and that the treatment is not a cure.
There are more than 1.5 million adults and children who suffer from peanut and other tree nut allergies in the United States. According to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, “Allergy to peanuts appears to be on the rise. One study showed that from 1997 to 2002, the incidence of peanut allergy doubled in children.” Recent studies suggest that up to 20% of children with peanut allergies outgrow it.
For more information on peanut allergies, see the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network.