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Exposure hope for peanut allergy

Wed March 18th, 2009

Scientists believe they can cure children of peanut allergy by giving them a small regular dose of the nut.

Dr Wesley Burks and his team at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina, USA, claim to have had success with this approach.

They investigated whether doses of increasing size could change how the immune system responds to peanuts. They started by giving a daily dose as small as 1/1000 of a peanut, building up to 15 peanuts over eight to ten months. This large dose continued for several years, while the children were monitored closely.

So far, four out of nine children in the study are able to eat peanuts safely. Blood tests suggest that their immune systems are now much less sensitive to peanuts.

Dr Burks says: "It appears these children have lost their allergies. At the start of the study, these participants couldn't tolerate one-sixth of a peanut. Six months into it, they were ingesting 13 to 15 peanuts before they had a reaction.

"Those children are now able to eat up to 15 peanuts with no reaction. This gives other parents and children hope that we'll soon have a safe, effective treatment that will halt allergies to certain foods."

But he warns that the research is in its early days and parents must not try this method at home. "In my clinic, I would do the same things I've always done," he said. "Once diagnosed with a food allergy, I would recommend they avoid the food. We have to wait for the studies to show the treatment is safe, and to see desensitisation start to work. We also want to know the therapy works long term."

Findings presented at the American Academy of Asthma and Immunology meeting in Washington, DC, USA, March 15, 2009.

Tags: Allergies & Asthma | Child Health | North America

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