An experimental skin patch may soon allow increased protection for toddlers who are allergic to peanuts, according to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The patch, named Viaskin, is coated with a small amount of peanut protein that is absorbed into the skin and would offer some protection against an accidental peanut ingestion that so many parents fear at birthday parties, in school cafeterias or on play dates.
If additional testing pans out, “this would fill a huge unmet need,” Dr. Matthew Greenhawt, an allergist at Children’s Hospital Colorado who contributed to the study, told the Associated Press.
There is no cure for food allergies. The number of Americans who are allergic to peanuts is estimated at 6.1 million, according to FARE, one of the largest private funding sources for food-allergy research.
About 2% of U.S. children are allergic to peanuts, some so severely than even a tiny exposure can cause a life-threatening reaction. Their immune systems overreact to peanut-containing foods, triggering an inflammatory cascade that causes hives, wheezing or worse. Some youngsters outgrow the allergy, but most must avoid peanuts for life and carry rescue medicine to stave off a severe reaction if they accidentally ingest an allergen.
In 2020, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first treatment to induce tolerance to peanuts — an “oral immunotherapy” named Palforzia that children ages 4 to 17 consume daily to keep up the protection.
The new study, which featured work from dozens of medical professionals in the U.S. and abroad, took samples from 362 toddlers with a peanut allergy. The toddlers were initially tested to see how high a dose of peanut protein they could tolerate. Then they were randomly assigned to use the Viaskin patch or a lookalike placebo patch every day.
After a year of treatment, they were tested again, and about two-thirds of the toddlers who used the Viaskin patch could safely ingest more peanut protein safely. One in three of the toddlers who were given the dummy patch also could safely ingest more peanuts, but Greenhawt said it’s likely those children had outgrown the allergy.
Deaths from allergic reactions to any food numbed a few hundred per year, according to the CDC. But each year there are about 200,000 emergency-room visits caused by allergic reactions to food.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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