Peanut Allergy Cure?

Good Morning America On Call recently ran a story entitled “Is There a Cure for Peanut Allergies?” by Cathy Becker and Imaeyen Ibanga, reporting that doctors at Duke University Medical Center and their colleagues at Arkansas Children’s Hospital have “found a way to desensitize children to peanuts by using the very thing to which the children are allergic – peanuts.”

In Food Allergies For Dummies, we discuss several immunotherapies for allergies (not all of which can be used for safely treating food allergies), including allergy shots, sublingual (under the tongue) treatments, oral immunotherapy (as discussed in the Good Morning America report), modified protein vaccines, and DNA immunization.

Although oral immunotherapy sounds easy enough, it comes with one very important warning: DON’T try this at home. The treatment really needs to be performed and closely monitored by a food allergy specialist who is well prepared to deal with possible life-threatening reactions. Patients are started on a miniscule amount of the food they are allergic to, and the amount is increased very gradually over a long period of time. The amount of allergen being ingested must be carefully controlled in a clinical setting to protect the patient’s safety and improve the chances of success.

We are very encouraged by these studies but they are still very preliminary with small numbers of patients. The cure may come, but we do not expect an FDA approved treatment for food allergy for at least 10 years – 20 years may be more realistic.