There may be hope on the horizon for the 1.2 million children and teens battling a peanut allergy. In a study released Thursday, researchers from Stanford University released a pilot study revealing that they have found an injection that could stave off peanut allergies for several weeks at a time.
Published in the journal JCI Insight, the study featured 20 individuals with severe peanut allergies, 15 of whom were given the injection and five of whom were given a placebo. Over the course of six weeks — in a controlled setting — the researchers gave the participants increasing amounts of peanut protein and monitored how they reacted. The results were extremely positive. Fifteen days after the shot, 73 percent of the participants who were given the injection were able to tolerate a small amount of peanut protein, compared to zero percent of the placebo group.
The injection, made up of an antibody known as “Etokimab,” targets the protein that causes a “cascade” of allergic reactions in the body. Researchers conclude that it has the potential to “desensitize peanut-allergic participants” and prevent life-threatening events following exposure.
Since the drug is not particular to peanuts — but rather the mechanism in the body that causes the reaction — the researchers hope it could be used to prevent other reactions as well. “Although this is still in the experimental stages, we’re delivering on the hope of testing a drug that won’t be for one food allergy but for many, and for other allergic diseases, too,” lead author of the study and professor of medicine at Stanford, Kari Nadeau, MD, PhD, said in a statement.
“What’s great about this treatment as an option for food allergies is that people did not have to eat the food to get desensitized,” says Nadeau. “We [could] potentially inhibit features of all allergies, which is promising,” she said, adding that the researchers were “surprised how long the effects of the treatment lasted.”
Overall, if the injection proves effective in further studies, it could prove transformative for the estimated 32 million Americans who are affected by food allergies — and especially the 200,000 who require emergency care each year. But of all the food allergies, there’s likely a reason the researchers targeted peanuts specifically. Michael Blaiss, MD, executive medical director of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), says peanut allergies can be especially dangerous. “It has more severe life-threatening reactions in general,” Blaiss tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
Blaiss says that while the research is still preliminary, it’s definitely a “step forward” for those with serious allergies. “We're really at the dawn of all these food allergy treatments,” Blaiss tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It’s very exciting for people like me who have treated people for a long time and could only tell people to be cautious and bring an [EpiPen] with them at all times.”
Although the development is exciting, Blaiss stresses that more research — especially a larger sample size — is needed before scientists can be sure that the injection is effective. “Theoretically, they're protected against accidental exposure, but this is in no way, shape or form saying you can go eat a Snickers bar,” he says. “It does not cure it.”
On top of the limited study size, Blaiss says there may be other hurdles with the drug, such as how often it may have to be administered (such as monthly) and the fact that it’s given via an injection, which might be a detractor for some.
But given that peanut allergies have tripled in the past decade, he’s continuing to hope. “They still have to be cautious, but it may give the parent and child peace of mind that if they did accidentally eat something, they wouldn't have a life-threatening reaction,” he says. “It's a step forward.”
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