In a breakthrough study, scientists from Duke University Medical Centre and Arkansas Children's Hospital have successfully cured peanut allergy by building up children''s tolerance to the oval-shaped nut.
During the study, tests of several immunologic indicators suggest the body builds tolerance quickly.
"It appears these children have lost their allergies," said Dr Wesley Burks, Chief of the Division of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at Duke.
"This gives other parents and children hope that we''ll soon have a safe, effective treatment that will halt allergies to certain foods," Burks added.
For the research, the team sought to determine whether incremental doses of peanut protein could change how the body''s immune system responds to its presence. The doses start as small as 1/1000 of a peanut.
Eight to 10 months later, the researchers found that the children were ingesting the equivalent of up to 15 peanuts a day. The children stayed on that daily therapy for several years, and were monitored closely.
"At the start of the study, these participants couldn't tolerate one-sixth of a peanut. Six months into it, they were ingesting 13 to 15 peanuts before they had a reaction," Burks said.
During the tests, the researchers looked at immunoglobulin E (IgE), a protein the body makes in response to peanut allergens.
"If you have it, you''re likely allergic, if you don't, you aren't," said Burks.
Children in this study generally started with IgE levels greater than 25.
"At the end of the study, their peanut IgEs were less than 2 and have remained that way since we stopped the treatment," he said.
However, Burks said it's hard to say whether the children simply outgrew their allergies or whether the therapy did something to enhance that outcome.
"We see initial desensitization effects of the treatment are real," Burks said.
"Those children are now able to eat up to 15 peanuts with no reaction, but the children not on treatment have symptoms early on in the study," Burks added.
The study was presented at the American Academy of Asthma and Immunology meeting.