Canadian doctors share promising new therapy for peanut allergies

Can a little exposure to peanuts lessen severe reactions in allergy sufferers? While this has been a long-debated question, it may soon be answered thanks to studies being conducted by Canadian and U.S. doctors. The ultimate result? To train the immune system of a child who lives with allergies to develop a higher tolerance for peanuts.

Researchers at McMaster University are working on a therapy called oral immunotherapy, that if successful, may lessen the effects of peanut allergies in children. In the study, children with peanut allergies are given a very small amount of peanut powder in a pudding in the hopes of desensitizing them against the reaction. Though the study results have not yet been published, a similar study in the U.S. points to success in reducing the allergic response in many who have tried it.

In the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, the U.S. study team tested the therapy on 40 people under the age of 37. In half of the group, a tiny amount of a peanut powder liquid was placed under their tongues every day; the other half received a placebo.

After 44 weeks, 14 of the 20 participants who were given the peanut powder were able to consume at least 10 times more peanut powder than they could at the beginning of the study. Some minor side effects were developed, but Dr. Susan Waserman, research lead at McMaster, says the therapy could be life-changing for those with peanut allergies.

“I think the demand is potentially huge,” she says. “Whether this be something that will be applicable to everybody still remains to be seen. But it is exciting for us because until now, we have had nothing in terms of food allergy treatments.”

Overall, the goal of the therapy is not to cure a peanut allergy, but to lessen its severity if a sufferer accidently consumes a small amount of a peanut product. It’s an alternative way to treat peanut allergies instead of people living in fear of peanuts for their entire lives. Doctors expect results from several studies early next year.

Also of interest is an article by Dr. Andrew Craig of the American Peanut Council. His article, Using peanuts to reduce sensitivity to peanuts: latest immunotherapy talks about the same study mentioned above and points towards the potential promising outcomes of immunotherapy.