CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – You’ve heard of fighting fire with fire. How about treating peanut allergies with peanuts? It’s a new approach to a potentially deadly threat that terrifies parents of allergic children. One brave child is helping researchers in their search for a peanut allergy cure.
A few teaspoons of peanut powder at a time and five-year-old Price Capps is becoming one of America’s youngest medical volunteers.
“When we started, we were only at six milligrams, so you can imagine that much was her daily dose,” Kelly Capps, Price’s mother, explained.
That amount is the equivalent of one-fiftieth of a peanut, and Kelly can vividly recall her daughter’s reaction to it a few years ago.
“She got hives everywhere that, where she made contact with it, and then she began to vomit within seconds,” Kelly said.
Price is one of 80 allergic children under 10 years of age participating in a groundbreaking allergy study involving immunotherapy. “In allergy terms, this means giving back to the person what they’re allergic to in increasingly larger amounts over a period of time to try to change their immune system,” Wesley Burks, MD, professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill said.
Researchers began giving the children one-one-thousandth of a peanut. Fifteen percent of the kids dropped out with severe side-effects. But of those who stuck with it for the next two years, half of them could eventually eat anywhere from seven to 20 peanuts without any reaction.
“Their immune system really is changing and it looks very different at the end of the study than it did at the beginning,” Dr. Burks said.
“If she were to be accidently exposed at school, for us it would likely not be life-threatening and that wouldn’t have been the case before this research study,” Kelly said.
Price can now stomach up to eight peanuts. It’s far from a cure, but it gives her some protection, and gives her mother some peace of mind.
Price will stop eating peanuts for six months so researchers can see if her immunity lasts, or if a daily dose of peanuts is necessary. In related work, a peanut allergy patch is on its third year of testing on children. It releases the peanut allergen continually through the skin in hopes of building immunity. It’ll be another year before it is sent to the Food and Drug Administration for approval.
All of the children in the study were under close supervision by doctors and nurses. Researchers do not recommend parents try this method on their own allergic children.