A new medical trial is trying a new treatment that could potentially wipe out peanut allergies as we know them. And not the mild ones: the lethal, anaphylactic type that put children and adults at risk of dying at the mere touch of the offending nut.
The study was carried out as a trial of 85 subjects, all children, to whom was administered in small doses at first a peanut protein which without the treatment would have been lethal to the subject.
Then the doses were increased, until the trial children were eating the equivalent of 5 peanuts a day at the end of the six months trial.
Although it will take quite a while before the therapy is approved for widespread public use, the results are so promising that the therapy has already been called 'revolutionary'
For those children who are at risk of dying from unseen peanut contamination in food or other matter, the therapy could prove a lifesaver.
Of all the food agents that can cause deadly anaphylactic reactions, peanut is the most common cause of death by anaphylaxis.
The trial was carried out under very controlled conditions at an hospital in Cambridge, and it aimed at conditioning the children's immune system to the assumption of peanuts in their diet.
There was no chemical agent coupled with the peanut protein. The whole principle behind this trial was to find a subliminal dosage of the peanut protein that was low enough that the immune system of the subject would tolerate it without causing a reaction and slowly, through months of careful increase of the dosage, allow the immune system to desensitize to the protein
What is also important is the psychological impact to the children, who live in fear of coming in contact with the offending food, and would now feel liberated from the thought that even a minute dose of peanuts could cause their death.
The only problem associated with this therapy is that so far it is costly, because it must be done in the most controlled conditions, an hospital or like structure, and it is a lenghtly process. In addition, the peanut protein must be precisely dosed and to be of the highet standard to be used in the initial stages of the treatment.
The researchers emphasized that people should not try to do this on their own, because there is no way that they could extract the protein in sufficiently small amounts. If they ttry with a dose that is small to the eye, but not small enough for the initial dosages, which is below the threshold of a reaction, they could cause the fatal attack of anaphylaxis they so dread.
Some doctors also warn that those people who have peanut allergies also have allergies to other nuts, so that proper assessments must be done so that the person does not believe it can eat all nuts freely at the end of the treatment.
Although desensitization is not a new discovery, it has never been tried with foodstuff as dangerous as peanuts.
Source: BBC/ 2.2.14