The Peanut Solution

January 25, 2019
Shay Maunz with reporting by TFK Kid Reporter Roman Peterson
SAFE TO EAT? A kid with a peanut allergy must be careful to avoid accidental exposure.
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Brett Treichel’s mother gave him a piece of peanut butter toast when he was 9 months old. He touched the peanut butter and rubbed his eye, which instantly swelled up. Brett was rushed to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with a peanut allergy.

Now 13, Brett has learned to live with his allergy. In the school cafeteria, he sits far from classmates who are eating peanut butter. He’s careful at baseball games, where peanuts are a popular snack, and with candy and fried foods. His school keeps a medical device called an EpiPen in the front office, and his teachers are trained to use it. Brett’s doctors say that, like most kids who are allergic to peanuts, he probably won’t grow out of his allergy. “I have to be careful for life,” Brett told TFK.

NUT BUTTERS, like almond or cashew, may be made by machines that process peanuts.

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A recent study in the journal Pediatrics found that one in 50 children in the United States is allergic to peanuts. That’s 1.6 million kids. For many, exposure to even a trace of peanut can trigger a reaction called anaphylaxis, which causes swelling of the tongue and throat and a drop in blood pressure. An injection of medicine using an EpiPen can stop the reaction. If not treated, anaphylaxis can be fatal.

In the past 20 years, new cases of peanut allergy have more than tripled. Experts aren’t sure what is causing the spike. There is no known cure for a peanut allergy, but in November 2018, a company called Aimmune Therapeutics announced the results of a clinical trial. The findings could mean help is on the way for Brett and other allergy sufferers.

FRIED FOODS are sometimes made using peanut oil.

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A New Treatment

Aimmune is developing a therapy that could help kids with peanut allergy tolerate peanuts. Here’s how it works: To start, a child is given just one milligram of a special peanut powder. For most patients, this tiny dose doesn’t set off an allergic reaction. Over time, more powder is added to the daily dose. This slowly increases the amount a patient can handle.

To make sure the treatment is safe and effective, Aimmune conducted a yearlong clinical trial with 554 participants of various ages. By the end of the trial, more than 96% of the children who completed the therapy could handle at least 300 milligrams of peanut powder. That’s equal to about one peanut.

A BIG WIN A new treatment allows kids to safely eat one peanut

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Bite-Proof Protection

Sayantani Sindher, of Stanford University, in California, was one of the researchers involved in the study. She told TFK that the goal is not to get kids to gorge on peanut butter sandwiches. Even after treatment, they will need to avoid peanuts and peanut products. But the treatment may keep kids from having a life-threatening allergic reaction. “It’s bite-proof protection,” Sindher says. “So if you accidentally take a bite of a cookie with peanuts in it, you don’t have to run to the emergency room. It gives peace of mind to kids and parents, and improves their quality of life.”

GRANOLA BARS, even peanut-free ones, can be contaminated.

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This is not the first time researchers have treated food allergies this way. But the clinical trial is believed to be the largest of its kind for peanut allergies.

For the treatment to become available to the general public, it must first be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA officials were so impressed with the results of the clinical trial that they have fast-tracked the approval process. That means the treatment could be available later this year.

Warning: Don't Try This at Home

Peanut therapy is done with a doctor’s supervision. Doses are specially prepared and carefully controlled. Patients are closely monitored for signs of an allergic reaction. Without these precautions, it’s extremely dangerous to eat a food you’re allergic to. If you and your family think this treatment could be right for you, see a doctor.