More than 15 million people in the United States live with food allergies that impact every meal they eat. For some, accidentally ingesting a snack that their body deems taboo can ignite a violent biological response. Every three minutes someone is rushed to the emergency room due to a food-allergy reaction, and among children, peanut intolerance is the leading cause of throat-swelling, life-threatening anaphylaxis. But new research from Australia may provide a promising lead to fighting peanut allergies in kids.
Using a mix of peanut protein and bacteria found in yogurt, pediatric immunologists from Murdoch Childrens Research Institute temporarily treated 80 percent of their allergy-stricken patients, they reported this month in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. “These findings provide the first vital step towards developing a cure for peanut allergy and possibly other food allergies,” lead author Mimi Tang said to The Guardian. “Many of the children and families believe it has changed their lives, they’re very happy, they feel relieved.”
Previous studies have shown that probiotics, which are good bacteria that promote a healthy digestive system, can fight food allergies in mice. But this is the first study of its kind to show success in people. About 60 children with peanut allergies between the ages of 1 and 10 took part in the study. Every day for 18 months, half of the randomly assigned kids ingested the probiotics dissolved in water and the peanut protein, and the other half took a placebo drink and ate a placebo powder that looked, smelled and tasted like the treatment. The kids in the peanut therapy group received 0.024 grams of peanut protein the first day and then gradually had their dosage increased every two weeks over the next eight months to build up their tolerances. For the final 10 months of the study, their treatment included two grams of peanut protein in yogurt and the equivalent of 20 kilograms of yogurt. Though the experiments took place under the researcher’s supervision, over the course of 18 months some of the children experienced adverse reactions, such as wheezing and mild discomfort, to anaphylactic episodes that needed to be treated with adrenaline.