A new pill containing peanut protein could grant relief to millions of people suffering from peanut allergies in the United States. Millions of children across the United States have peanut allergies, which can be so severe that if they are exposed to peanuts their throats could swell shut. The peanut protein capsules have been successful at improving a person’s tolerance of peanut allergens up to 30 times what they were before taking the pills.
The traditional way of treating and waxes caused by exposure to allergens is with an epinephrine auto-injector, a strange filled with epinephrine or adrenaline. If the results of the clinical trial conducted by pharmaceutical company Aimmune Therapeutics hold constant, there may soon be a new method of treatment for peanut allergens, and possibly other types of allergens. The clinical trial suggests that it is possible to create a tolerance to peanut allergens in a person’s body through gradual and incremental exposure to peanut proteins.
A Pill Containing Peanut Protein
Aimmune Therapeutics conducted a year-long clinical trial involving almost 500 children between the ages of four and 17. Though the average peanut possesses about 250 to 350 milligrams of peanut protein, the kids involved in the study had a peanut allergy so severe that ingesting more than 30 mg of peanut protein would cause moderate or even dangerous immunological reactions.
Participants in the study were either given a pill known as AR101, which contained trace amounts of peanut proteins, or a placebo pill. The study was double-blind, meaning that at the researchers nor patients knew if they had received a placebo pill or AR101. Participants of the study were to take a pill daily for a year. Those who received the AR 101 pill would be exposed to incrementally increasing doses of peanut proteins until they hit the 300 mg benchmark at week 22 of the study, and they would then remain at that dosage level for six more months.
During the 44th week of the study, participants were tested to ascertain their tolerance level for peanut proteins. The participants in the study were administered batches of peanut protein about half an hour apart under close supervision from the researchers. The intensity of the doses increased incrementally, up to the point where the participant’s allergy symptoms moved from mild to moderate. The point where their symptoms became moderate was considered their safe limit, and where they were cut off from any more doses of peanut protein.
The results of the study imply that through methodical and gradually increasing exposure to peanut protein, the immune system can develop a tolerance to it. After analyzing the results of the study, the researchers found that approximately 67% of the patients who had received AR 101 could now tolerate doses of peanut protein up to approximately 600 mg in concentration. By contrast, only a scant 4% of the subjects in the placebo group were able to do the same. The maximum amount of peanut protein that the researchers tested for was around 2000 mg administered over the course of three hours, and about half of the participants who received AR 101 could handle this maximum dosage, compared to only about 2% of the participants in the placebo group.
Epithelial cells and blood cells are some of the cells immediately impacted by an allergen. Photo: Sabban, Sari (2011). The University of Sheffield. CC 3.0
Results And Risks
The medical director of Gores Family Allergy Center at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Dr. Jonathan Tam, is one of the researchers who recruited test subjects for Aimmune Therapeutics. Dr. Tam explains that the pill essentially changes the way the immune system perceives peanut proteins. The pill has the immune system reappraise the protein, going from interpreting it as a threat to seeing it as something safe.
“It’s not going to be for everybody but for certain families that are very anxious about having accidental exposures… this is a great therapy for them,” Dr. Tam explains about the treatment.
Tam acknowledges that there are risks you take the drug, as there are with any drug. The drugs may cause increased adverse reactions to peanuts, as well itching and stomach pains. Dr. Tam says that around 20% of the participants involved in the study ended up having to drop out from the study, due to the side effects. It’s also important to note that Aimmune Therapeutics’ findings have not yet been analyzed by an independent review board.
Despite this, Tam and the other Aimmune researchers are excited about the project and are hoping to take the research further. Aimmune says that it will be seeking approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sometime later this year and that it will expand its operations into Europe come spring of next year. As for the cost of the treatment, the estimated cost is around $5,000 to $10,000 for the first six months of treatment, dropping to around $300 to $400 per month after this period. The company says that over time they expect the treatment to become cheaper as the technology is refined.
It’s very important that people don’t try this treatment outside of a medical and professional setting, explains Dr. Stacie Jones, an allergy specialist at the University of Arkansas. Jones says that the treatment is investigational and dangerous, so it must be done in “a very safe setting to make sure kids can be treated quickly for any bad reactions that occur”.
The Future Of Allergy Treatments
Mast cells are involved in the release of histamines, which are responsible for the manifestation of allergic symptoms. Photo: SariSabban – Sabban, Sari (2011). The University of Sheffield CC 3.0
Aimmune Therapeutics’ research isn’t the only recent advancement in treating allergens. A team of researchers from the Department of Engineering at Aarhus University has recently discovered an antibody which could be used to inactivate the body’s allergic processes.
When someone has an allergic reaction to something, their body produces something called Immunoglobulin E. The binding of Immunoglobulin E to receptors on mast cells releases histamines which starts the manifestation of allergic symptoms. The study found that anti-Immunoglobulin E antibodies could be employed to prevent Immunoglobulin E from binding to mast cells and starting the allergic reaction.
It will still be quite a few years before either the peanut pills from Aimmune Therapeutics or anti-Immunoglobulin E antibodies will start being available to the general public, but research projects like these provide hope to the 1 out of every 13 people that struggle with some form of food allergy.