Back in March, I read an article in the New York Times about Dr Kari Nadeau, who is currently carrying out a multiallergy trial, "desensitising" children in respect of more than one food allergen at a time.
The Allergy UK website explains that desensitisation (immunotherapy) "involves the administration of gradually increasing doses of allergen extracts over a period of years", given either by injection (subcutaneous immunotherapy) or by drops or tablets under the tongue (sublingual immunotherapy). As regards food allergies, the Allergy UK site goes on to state that:
"Early results are promising but this research is still in its infancy and the technique is not widely available".
Much of the New York Times piece struck a chord with me, but one part which stuck in my mind was the description of the boy who had an anaphylactic reaction when attending hospital for a dose of allergen and had to be given an EpiPen. His mother, the author of the article, initially thought:
"Forget this. My son is not going to be the canary in the coal mine."
If D were offered the chance to participate in an immunotherapy trial to be desensitised in respect of peanut, would we take it? I'm not sure. Having seen him in intensive care following an anaphylactic reaction to peanut, would we be able to go through with him being given doses of peanut and being knowingly put at risk of life threatening anaphylaxis? But, then, if nobody participates in these trials, a cure will never be found. So hats off to those parents who are brave enough to have their child participate in an immunotherapy trial. Whether or not we would muster the courage to go through with it, I don't know.
So, on the back of that, when I read the news about the Viaskin peanut patch this week, I was extremely heartened. The stick on patch, which is about the size of a 10p piece, is worn on the arm or the back. It contains tiny amounts of peanut protein, which gradually seep into the skin. The Daily Mail reported that:
"The breakthrough patch, called Viaskin Peanut, does not cause anaphylactic shock because the proteins stay in the skin and do not penetrate as far as the bloodstream."
Apparently, after 12 months, at least 20 per cent of the children in the trial were able to consume over ten times the amount of peanut protein than they could tolerate previously. After 18 months, this increased to 40%.
In the UK, there are about 200-400,000 peanut allergic people and approximately 1 in 50 children have a peanut allergy. So it looks as if the Viaskin peanut patch is one to watch ... and, if the trials are successful, it seems that it could offer a means of desensitisation without the usually associated risk of anaphylaxis during treatment.
New York Times, The Allergy Buster: Can a Radical New Treatment Save Children With Severe Food Allergies? by Melanie Thernstrom (7 March 2013).
Medical Daily, Viaskin 'Peanut Patch' Could Be The Answer To Peanut Allergies In Children by Justin Caba (24 June 2013).
- Daily Mail, The 'peanut patch' that could save lives: New plaster reduces severity of allergic reactions in children by Pat Hagan (24 June 2013).