Peanut allergies are severe, often affecting children, and are increasing in prevalence. It’s no wonder researchers around the globe are looking at new, inventive ideas for how “cure” them, or at the very least, how to allow those with peanut allergies to tolerate at least a small amount of this legume’s protein.
Allergic Living looks at two of the latest ideas in the labs:
Peanut Allergy Vaccine
Researchers at Mount Sinai and Johns Hopkins University are studying a vaccine for peanut allergies to see if it is safe. The vaccine contains an altered peanut protein to “trick” the immune system. Dr. Scott Sicherer, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York likens the changed peanut to a baby bracelet that spells “peanut.”
“If you altered that bracelet a little bit, let’s say you changed the ‘A’ in peanut to a ‘D’, then it would say PEDNUT instead of PEANUT,” he says.
The idea is that the person’s immune system won’t recognize “pednut” and won’t mount an allergic reaction to it. However over time, if it sees “pednut” enough, it may learn to tolerate “peanut.”
Once the safety trials for the vaccine, which is administered rectally as a suppository and also contains heat-killed E. coli, are complete, researchers will begin to study if it actually reduces peanut allergy in humans.
The Desensitizing ‘Peanut Patch’
Researchers are also looking at the possibility of desensitizing people with peanut allergies through the skin.
Dr. Hugh Sampson, head of the Consortium of Food Allergy Research in the United States, told Allergic Living magazine that U.S. researchers got the idea from French research, in which scientists have developed immunotherapy patches for cow’s milk allergy.
Those researchers placed a milk-containing patch on dairy-allergic patients every other day for three months. The results were that the patients were able to consume, on average, 12 times more milk without a reaction than they could before the treatment.
Armed with this encouraging research, a company formed by the French researchers is now set to begin a safety trial on a comparable peanut patch. If the safety trial is successfully completed, Sampson and the researchers in CoFAR hope to begin the next level of clinical trials: to see if the patch works to desensitize patients allergic to peanut.
Sampson, who is the director of the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine, says it’s unclear why placing an allergen on the skin could lead to an allergic person being able to consume the food in question without reaction. But he says a variety of research done with mice shows that you can both sensitize, and desensitize, through the skin. Part of the work his group will undertake will be to discover more about the immunologic factors at play.
One promising aspect of desensitization through the skin, compared to other methods such as oral immunotherapy (in which patients eat gradually increasing amounts of their allergen) is that so far, reactions have been limited to the area where the patch is applied, and have not affected other systems of the body. However, the French study was done on a small group of patients.
Sampson hopes to begin his trial mid 2011.