Peanut allergies range from inconvenient to potentially fatal. The cause is unknown, but it is likely to involve a combination of immunogenetic and environmental factors. In the case of the latter, research suggests that peanut allergies are more common among Westerners, possibly because they eat dry roasted peanuts while Asians eat boiled ones.
Those who are afflicted by deadly peanut allergies take great pains to avoid any foods that might contain even a trace of the legume. In case they accidentally consume peanuts, some carry an EpiPen to prevent anaphylactic shock.
For these sufferers, relief soon may be on the horizon. The company DBV Technologies has developed a skin patch to treat severe peanut allergies. (It also has patches to treat milk and egg allergies.) The result of a phase II clinical trial conducted on 74 patients, all between the ages of 4 and 25 and none of whom had experienced a severe anaphylactic reaction to peanuts, was recently reported in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
Patients were first tested to determine how much peanut protein they could swallow. Then, they were divided randomly into three groups. One group received a skin patch, about the size of a quarter, containing 100 micrograms of raw peanut extract. Another group received a patch with 250 micrograms, and the third a patch with no peanut extract (that served as a placebo). After 52 weeks, patient outcomes were assessed. If the patient could swallow ten times the peanut protein that he or she could eat the previous year, the trial was declared a success.
As shown, after 52 weeks, only 12% of the patients in the placebo group were able to swallow enough peanut protein to be declared a success. On the other hand, patients in the experimental groups, who wore patches with 100 and 250 micrograms of peanut protein, respectively, exhibited just under a 50% success rate. Treatment was more likely to be successful if the patient was younger. Additionally, side effects were mostly mild (such as red, bumpy skin), though one patient broke out in blisters and another had hives.
It may be tempting to speak of such a treatment as a pathway toward a "cure." However, people with severe peanut allergies likely never will be able to consume peanuts by the handful. Instead, the most optimistic outcome would be to relieve the constant anxiety and fear of eating a meal outside the home. If not a cure, then, it is at least life-changing.
Source: Stacie M. Jones et al. "Epicutaneous immunotherapy for the treatment of peanut allergy in children and young adults." J. Allergy Clin. Immunol. Article in Press. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jaci.2016.08.017