Study: Overcoming Allergies Possible – Forbes.com
Allergies to pollen and other environmental triggers often are treated with shots called immunotherapy. A series of injections containing small amounts of the allergen builds up patients’ tolerance, reducing or even eliminating symptoms in many people.
Shots proved too dangerous for food allergy. So Burks and colleagues at Duke and the University of Arkansas developed an oral immunotherapy.
Here’s how it worked: First, youngsters spent a day at the Duke hospital swallowing minuscule but increasing doses of either an egg powder egg or a defatted peanut flour, depending on their allergy. They started at 1/3,000th of a peanut or about 1/1,000th of an egg, increasing the amount until the child broke out in hives or had some other reaction.
Then the children were sent home with a daily dose just under that reactive amount. Every two weeks, the kids returned for a small dose increase until they reached the equivalent of a tenth of an egg or one peanut – a maintenance dose that they swallowed daily.
After two years, four of the seven youngsters in the egg pilot study could eat two scrambled eggs with no problem, and two more ate about as much before symptoms began, researchers report in the January edition of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
In the peanut pilot study, yet to be published, six of the children challenged so far could tolerate 15 peanuts, Burks says; Elizabeth’s limit was seven.
“We thought it would make some difference. We’re surprised about the amount of difference it made,” says Burks. “From one peanut to 15 peanuts is basically a huge difference.”
But will it last? These youngsters still take their daily maintenance dose, which Elizabeth’s mother nicknamed “peanut medicine” so as not to confuse a child taught to avoid peanut products. No one knows if the protection will last if they stop that daily dose, notes Dr. Marshall Plaut of the National Institutes of Health, which has a Food Allergy Research Consortium that’s closely tracking Burks’ work.
The next step: Burks’ team is beginning larger studies that randomly assign youngsters to take either dummy powders or the egg- or peanut-containing ones, seeking better evidence for the treatment.