Health Team

Researchers look for ways to cure peanut allergy

Posted January 16, 2013 5:45 p.m. EST
Updated January 16, 2013 7:07 p.m. EST

Even a slight taste of peanuts could trigger a potentially life threatening allergic reaction.

Researchers have been working on ways to cure this common food allergy, and recent studies show great progress.

Eight-year-old Stormer Freeman doesn’t remember the first time he ate peanut butter.

“When he was 11 months old, we discovered he had a peanut allergy,” his mother, Shelly Freeman, said.

“My eyes would swell up and my lip would swell up if I ate it,” Stormer said.

From that early age, his parents kept peanuts, or anything containing peanuts, far from Stormer.

When he was 4 years old, Stormer entered a clinical trial that looked at special immunotherapy, using peanut protein in the form of drops. The drops are placed under the tongue and held there for two minutes.

Most parents simply hope that the therapy increases the child’s tolerance, so accidentally eating food containing peanuts won’t trigger a severe response.

“I think as physician researchers in this field, that what we all hope we can do is give them something and make it go away,” said Dr. Wesley Burks, a UNC physician who co-authored the study.

Stormer can now tolerate two tablespoons worth of peanut products, which he eats daily to maintain his tolerance.

“I have to eat it daily, and I usually eat like a tablespoon or just a few Reeses,” Stormer said.

The study results found the therapy safely desensitized a majority of participants. However, it’s not something families of children with peanut allergies should try on their own. Study participants took their doses under careful monitoring by medical professionals.

“The right thing to do right now is continue to avoid the food,” Dr. Burks said. “It’s not a treatment that’s available or should be available. It’s still in studies, but we’re getting closer."