New treatment promises hope for peanut allergy sufferers

Peanuts are consumed in many forms, including roasted or boiled, in peanut butter, candy, desserts and other foods. They have been a popular snack among Americans for many generations; however, schools and other public places are now cautious about serving or even allowing the legume because some people have severe, even life-threatening, reactions to peanuts, said Dr. Sara Bluestein of the Northlake area office of Atlanta Allergy & Asthma, which bills itself as the largest allergy medical practice in Georgia.

While people of all ages experience peanut allergies, children are more at risk because their allergies may not have been diagnosed, or they may not know to take precautions against ingesting the offending substance, according to Bluestein.

The number of children with peanut allergies has increased in recent years, possibly because of changes in the age at which children are introduced to peanuts, according to Bluestein, who said, “I don’t think I knew even one child who was allergic to peanuts when I was growing up.”

She said that currently between 2 and 3 percent of children have peanut allergies severe enough to require medical intervention.

A new treatment, not yet approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), promises to reduce the danger of accidental peanut ingestion by children suffering from the allergy. Atlanta Allergy & Asthma is participating in a clinical trial of the “peanut patch,” which the medical practice said is showing promising results.

The treatment is administered through the skin, using a patch, Bluestein explained, adding, “This is not a cure; however, it allows the child to consume a small portion of peanuts—perhaps two or three peanuts or a bite of a peanut dessert without a severe reaction. This is important because a child might accidentally ingest this small amount. Having this safeguard can bring great peace of mind for the patient and the parents.”

This news may be of special interest to Georgians, since Georgia is the number one peanut producing state in the country, according to New Georgia Encyclopedia, which states that Georgia accounts for approximately 49 percent of the national acreage and production in peanut farming. “All segments of the peanut industry, including grower, buyer, sheller, broker, manufacturer, and such allied industries as storage and transportation are represented in Georgia,” the reference book states.

In announcing the clinical trials, Allergy & Asthma cited a recent report in The New England Journal of Medicine that biopharmaceutical company DBV Technologies and other institutions around the world conducted a random double-blind trial of the Viaskin Peanut Patch in children ages 1 to 3 years old who had been diagnosed with an allergy to peanuts.

The children in the study wore the patches between their shoulder blades for a year before undergoing screening for peanut challenges. “After 12 months, two-thirds of the children who used the Viaskin patch and one-third of the placebo group had met the trial’s primary endpoint. Children with a less sensitive allergy could safely tolerate peanut protein equivalent to consuming three or four peanuts, and children who were more sensitive could tolerate the equivalent of consuming one peanut,” the Atlanta Allergy & Asthma announcement stated.

The only FDA-approved therapy now available for children with peanut allergy is an oral treatment called Palforzia, approved for children ages 4 through 17, but no options are available for younger children, according to Atlanta Allergy & Asthma, which called the current study “a positive step toward more approved therapies for all people with a food allergy.”

“This therapy has the potential to give new hope to families with toddlers who currently have no approved treatment options,” said Dr. Stanley Fineman, one of Bluestein’s colleagues at Atlanta Allergy & Asthma and one of the physicians who oversees clinical trials at his practice.

“There are some limitations with this study, so more research is needed,” Fineman explained. “In fact, the Atlanta Allergy & Asthma Research Department is currently participating in a clinical trial using this peanut patch for children 4 through 7 years old with peanut allergy. We are recruiting participants for this trial right now. You do not have to be a patient of Atlanta Allergy to participate.”

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