4 years after immunotherapy, kids still peanut-tolerant

Scientists have been working tirelessly on a cure for allergies for many years. New findings show just how close they may be getting.

Researchers in Melbourne, Australia, gave 48 children a peanut protein-containing probiotic (or a placebo) every day for 18 months. A month after halting the dose, around 80% of tested kids could tolerate peanuts without having an allergic reaction. A full four years later, about 70% could still eat peanuts without allergy symptoms.

“This is a major step forward in identifying an effective treatment to address the food allergy problem in Western societies,” said Mimi Tang, lead researcher at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.

Food allergies, including peanut allergies, are on the rise in developed countries. Around 250 million people worldwide are affected by them. In the U.S. alone, it’s estimated that about 15 million people have food allergies, and approximately 200,000 of them require emergency medical care each year for their allergic reactions, which can be deadly.

According to Tang, this is the first time a peanut allergy treatment has been shown to be effective for so long.

Oral immunotherapy, the method used to treat the children, involves introducing patients to very low doses of their allergen in order to challenge their personal threshold of exposure. Over time, the dosage increases in small increments, increasing the threshold. In this case, the probiotic administered was Lactobacillus rhamnosus, which is known to reduce the severity of allergic reactions.

What’s notable about the finding is that most children, even four years after being given the probiotic treatment, “had been eating peanut freely in their diet without having to follow any particular program of peanut intake,” according to Tang. The benefits of the treatment did not seem to fade, even when the child was not being regularly being exposed to the challenging dose, suggesting that complete tolerance and not just desensitization might be on the horizon.

“The importance of this finding is that these children were able to eat peanuts like children who don’t have peanut allergy and still maintain their tolerant state, protected against reactions to peanuts,” she said.

Her team plans to continue investigating the impact of the treatment on the quality of the children’s lives. She hopes to have a treatment product commercially available within five years.

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