Breakthrough in Treatment for Peanut Allergies

There is currently no treatment for peanut allergies. But scientists have come up with some promising research that they hope could not only lead to treatment, but to the eventual elimination of the allergy.

For the past year or so, researchers at Duke University have been putting daily doses of a peanut solution under the tongues of children with allergies. And so far, they've found that they have built up a tolerance to the allergen, as opposed to children receiving a placebo, who were unchanged.

“We were able to raise the threshold for the amount of peanuts these kids could tolerate,” said Wesley Burks, M.D., Chief of the Division of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at Duke and senior author of the study.

The kids who got the treatment could tolerate the equivalent of five to seven peanuts compared to those who received placebo and tolerated less than one peanut.

“The good news is we have successfully helped these kids tolerate about five peanuts and that means accidental ingestion is less of a hazard,” Burks said. “Most kids with peanut allergies are not going to accidentally eat five peanuts and most reactions from accidental ingestions occur from just a trace of a peanut, well below the study groups’ new threshold.”

Burks said while a cure is still a long way off, this is a major breakthrough.

“Ideally we want to eliminate the allergy,” Burks said. “But, we are not there yet. It’s not a long-term cure. That part of the process is still being studied now.”

The children who were on treatment are continuing with it, and those who were receiving placebos have entered the treatment phase. Both groups will be followed for three or four more years to determine if it’s possible to eliminate their allergy.

More than three million Americans have peanut or tree nut allergies. Fewer than 20% of them will naturally outgrow the allergy.

The study was published the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

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