Is a Peanut Allergy Cure Via Oral Desensitization Possible?

Peanuts are a treat for some, but for others even one peanut can trigger severe food allergies. Some peanut allergy responses are so serious that they are actually life threatening. There is now talk of a cure for peanut allergy sufferers.

Understanding the Role of Peanuts in Food Allergies

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases states that 0.8% of children (and 0.6% of adults) suffer from a peanut allergy; by comparison, 2.6% of children present with food allergies involving eggs. The foregoing numbers notwithstanding, exposure to peanuts is the leading cause of food allergy related deaths. Symptoms of exposure, as listed by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, are eczema, hives, asthma, gastrointestinal upset, and finally anaphylactic shock.

So why do Peanut Allergy Sufferers not Simply Avoid Food Allergies Causing Peanuts?

Avoiding allergy causing peanuts is easier said than done! Considering that exposures are largely accidental, it is the predominance of peanuts in everyday food items that makes it hard to avoid them. After all, peanuts are part of cereals, Asian foods, bakery items, ice cream, and also natural flavorings, making it hard to second guess when an item that is devoid of actual peanut chips might actually contain peanut oil or peanut butter.

Could Talizumab a.k.a. TNX-901 be the Cure for Peanut Allergy Sufferers?

It was the hope that Tanox, Inc. would provide a drug that could counteract food allergies symptoms related to peanuts, but unfortunately a legal dispute broke out and the New York Times reported in 2003 that lawsuits and briefs were cluttering the court system, effectively delaying clinical application of the drug. Yet even this drug was not a cure for peanut allergy sufferers, since it simply increased their ability to tolerate peanuts but did not take away the allergic response altogether.

Oral Desensitization is the Latest Attempt at Finding a Cure for Peanut Food Allergies

Great Britain’s Cambridge Network reported on its desensitization therapy at Addenbrooke’s Hospital which had patients submit to daily ingestions of peanut flour. Instead of relying on drugs, scientists worked on training the body to increase its natural resistance to peanut induced allergic reactions. Researchers are quick to point out that it is not a total cure for peanut allergy sufferers, but instead a way to survive accidental exposure to peanuts and related products.

At the end of the desensitization therapy, children are able to safely eat up to 10 peanuts. The obvious problem of the initial study is the number of participants: four. Duke University and the Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock also worked on oral desensitization therapy with good results. WebMD reported on the fact that successful peanut oral desensitization actively changed the immune system of patients and provided peanut tolerance – albeit in limited quantities.

Sources

http://www3.niaid.nih.gov/topics/foodAllergy/understanding/quickFacts.htm; http://www.aafa.org/display.cfm?id=9⊂=20 cont;=517

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9900EEDC133EF930A25750C0A9659C8B63

http://www.cambridgenetwork.co.uk/news/article/default.aspx?objid=56692; http://www.webmd.com/allergies/news/20070226/progress-against-peanut-allergies