Duke University scientists may have cured life-threatening peanut allergies in a small cohort of children by exposing them to miniscule amounts of the very food that caused the problem in the first place.
With continuous clinical supervision and all necessary emergency resources on hand, the scientists had severely affected kids swallow tiny amounts of a specially prepared peanut blend and then increased the dose until they observed a minor reaction.
They then sent the kids home on a daily dose just below that amount–typically the equivalent of a thousandth of a peanut–and gradually increased the dose over 8-10 months.
After that, the scientists maintained the dose for an additional 18 months. And then, finally, they exposed the kids in a controlled environment to actual peanuts, and voila, no reaction!
Subsequently, the scientists told the kids to stop daily treatments for a month, after which time the kids popped peanuts in a controlled environment once again. Nothing happened clinically, and immune testing revealed no signs of residual allergy.
The coast seemed clear.
“We’re optimistic that (the kids) have lost their peanut allergy,” said lead researcher, Wesley Burks. “We’ve not seen this before medically. We’ll have to see what happens to them.”
Randomized controlled trials of the desensitization technique are underway.
Peanut allergy is considered to be the most dangerous food allergy, in that exposure to trace amounts of peanuts can prompt life-threatening reactions. It is responsible for a majority of the 30,000 ER visits 200 deaths per year that are chalked up to food allergies.
Peanut allergy affects 1.8 million people in the US.
Burks’ team released results of its pilot study at a conference of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.