Using Peanut Protein And A Placebo, The Goal Is To Desensitize Children

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Peanut allergies are one of the most common food allergies and can cause deadly allergic reactions.

Doctors have tried oral therapies and allergy shots, with only moderate success.

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But as CBS 2’s Dr. Max Gomez reported Friday, researchers are experimenting with a promising new peanut patch.

Joshua Mandelbaum is an 8-year-old with a peanut allergy. It’s so severe that if he touches peanuts he could die.

“His throat has swelled, his body has swelled. He has had hives from head to toe,” said Lianne Mandelbaum, the boy’s mother.

To try to reduce his allergy, Joshua’s mother enrolled him in a study that’s testing a new patch containing peanut protein. Joshua has to wear it every day for at least the next two and a half years. Researchers want to know if low-level repeated exposure to peanuts can actually desensitize children.

“This protein gets into the outer layer of the skin, is taken up by specialized cells that then take it to the inner parts of the immune system,” said Dr. Hugh Sampson of Mount Sinai Hospital.

Sampson said the idea is like allergy shots, only more gradual and without needles. The goal is to teach the child’s immune system not to overreact to peanuts.

“Trying to get them to tolerate five grams of peanut protein, which would be the equivalent of eating 20 peanuts,” Sampson said.

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Doctors say oral therapies are effective, but can come with side effects. Researchers hope going through the skin will mean fewer problems.

Patients in the study don’t know if they have a peanut patch or a placebo patch. The Mandelbaums think Joshua is getting the real thing because he gets a little itchy at times, but adds the discomfort is worth it.

“It could save my life one day,” Joshua said.

His mother said it would be life-altering to stop worrying all the time.

Since Joshua and the other volunteers don’t know if they’re getting the real peanut patch or the placebo, they still have to be very careful about avoiding exposure to peanuts. At the end of the trial that doctors will very carefully test the volunteers to see how they react to peanuts.

The peanut patch is being tested at 24 centers worldwide.

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