London: Immunotherapy pills can protect some peanut allergy sufferers from fatal reactions but they cannot cure the condition, a study has shown. Scientists were able to reduce patients’ sensitivity to the nut but could not get rid of the allergy altogether.
The pills are packed with minuscule amounts of peanut to train the body into producing antibodies to fight the allergen. This gets rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, where it works to desensitize the immune system to larger amounts of the nut.
Peanut Allergy Treatment Does Not CURE Patients
King’s College London researchers took samples from 22 peanut allergy patients aged four to 18 as part of their study. When they stripped away the protective antibodies they found the allergic cells were still as reactive as before the treatment.
But they did note the pills provided enough protection to save at least one in 50 Britons from death. The findings strengthen the theory that while immunotherapy pills can provide some protection, they do not ‘cure’ the allergies.
Immunotherapy is the only treatment option peanut allergy patients are offered. However, most are through clinical trials because it is not yet available on the NHS. It can be delivered in pill-form, dissolved under the tongue, or applied to the skin as a patch.
Lead author, Dr. Alexandra Santos, from King’s College London and Evelina London Children’s Hospital, said: ‘Peanut oral immunotherapy can confer some protection to accidental exposure to peanut as a result of the so-called “blocking antibodies” and shown by the reduction in the reaction of allergic cells after treatment.
‘But if we remove these blocking antibodies we could see that the cells are still as reactive as before, confirming that the patients were still allergic and need to keep going with the POIT [immunotherapy treatment] regimen to maintain the protection.’
Peanut allergy is a potentially life-threatening condition, with rates having doubled over the last two decades. It now affects one in 50 children in the UK. The condition is rarely outgrown and is the most common cause of food allergy deaths. There is currently no cure.
Just 100mg of peanut protein can trigger a severe reaction. A single peanut kernel contains around 300mg of the protein. Reactions usually cause symptoms like sneezing, itchy eyes, and hives. In rare cases, they can trigger anaphylaxis. This can be deadly, with symptoms including swelling of the throat, difficulty breathing and loss of consciousness.