There is currently no treatment for peanut allergies, but scientists are getting closer. In June 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved an application that allowed DBV Technologies, a private French company that specializes in food allergies, to begin conducting clinical trials on a new “Peanut patch” called Viaskin.
It is estimated that more than 1% of Canadians are allergic to peanuts, a nut that grows underground. A food allergy is the body’s immune response to the protein in a food. Symptoms can range from hives to death. For those who are allergic to peanuts, eating even the smallest amount of peanut protein can cause a severe anaphylactic reaction. Unlike children with cow’s milk, soy, egg and wheat allergies, only about 15% to 20% of children with a peanut allergy actually “outgrow” their allergy.
The Viaskin “Peanut patch” is an Epicutaneous Immunotherapy (EPIT) treatment. Epicutaneous means that a specific dose of the peanut allergen is delivered to the skin via the patch. Small amounts of the allergen are carried to the cells that regulate allergic reactions without being absorbed directly into the bloodstream. Scientists hope that by repeatedly exposing a person to the allergen, their immune system will become used to it and eventually they will become desensitized to the allergen.
Desensitization is a technique that has been attempted for over 100 years and has proven to be a successful treatment for dust mite allergies. However, it is a riskier technique for those with a food allergy, since many food allergies are more severe and can result in anaphylactic shock.
A study published in 1992 attempted to desensitize participants who were allergic to peanuts by injecting either a peanut extract or a placebo into their bloodstream. The treatment appeared to be effective for those receiving the peanut extract, but the study was terminated after a placebo group participant received the peanut extract by mistake and died.
Although clinical trials for the Viaskin “Peanut patch” are just beginning in the U.S. and Europe, a small study on the Viaskin “Milk patch” has already been completed. This study included 18 children who were given either skimmed milk powder or a placebo through the patch. Those who were exposed to the “Milk patch” for 3 months were able to tolerate more milk orally than those who were given the placebo. The results of this study are promising, but due to the very small number of participants, many more studies are needed to determine the safety of the patch.
A cure for peanut allergies would be ground-breaking and could improve the quality of life of many families, but since it is such a risky treatment it could be a long time before the “Peanut patch” is found on the shelves of Canadian pharmacies.
For more information on food allergies, visit Peanut allergy: A common sense approach, Food Allergies and Travelling, Living Well with Food Allergies, Allergies and ABCs of food allergies.
Ashley Murphy, MHSc (c), RD
Nutrition Communication Intern