Jessica Tully envisions a day when a life-threatening reaction from the ingestion of peanuts for those who are allergic is a fear of the past:
Moms love it for its simplicity; kids love it for its taste. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches line the bottom of brown paper bags in cafeterias across the country — it’s a staple of elementary school lunches.
Yet many children are excluded from the universal experience for health reasons. At the moment, there is no treatment for peanut allergies. Managing peanut allergies comes down to avoidance and injectable epinephrine when a life-threatening allergic response begins.
The avoidance method could one day have an alternative, and Pittsburgh would have played a role. The Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC is one of the participating centers of a worldwide study attempting to desensitize participants allergic to peanuts through wearing a patch containing a peanut protein. There are 10 participating centers in the United States, six in France, four in Canada, two in the Netherlands and two in Poland.
Peanut allergy is common enough in children to spook parents and school districts into banning peanuts and peanut butter from school lunchrooms. It doesn’t take much peanut exposure to trigger reactions that range from vomiting and hives to potentially fatal anaphylaxis. Other than avoiding peanuts (which often means avoiding all nuts) and being prepared with Benadryl and self-administered, intramuscular epinephrine (adrenaline) in cases of exposure, there is really nothing else that can be done for peanut-allergic people. Until now. By placing a patch containing minute quantities of peanut protein on the skin every day for a year, researchers are hoping to find a safe, simple, and non-invasive way to desensitize those at risk.
Desensitization by administering minute amounts of allergic foods by mouth is also being studied. Read more about that here and here.