Everyone deserves to experience the joy of peanut butter.
In the US alone, there’s an estimated 1.5 million children who are allergic to peanuts, and studies show the number of peanut-allergic children appears to have tripled between 1997 and 2008, according to Food Allergy Research and Education.
Whether your style was a classic PB&J or a peanut butter sandwich with bananas or marshmallow fluff, you'd likely agree that the delicious, creamy spread is a childhood staple. Scratch that — it’s a staple for adults too.
Now, scientists are developing a patch to treat peanut allergies with "epicutaneous immunotherapy,” which in layman terms means that a drug that targets the immune system will be delivered through the skin. The French biotechnology company that’s developing the patch, DBV Technologies, is the first company to use this new immunotherapy technology.
Each patch is sprayed with a sample of peanut protein, and once the patch is placed on the skin, the protein travels through the skin into the immune system. Since the allergen is making its way to the immune system via the skin, it never makes it to the blood stream, which is what would cause the allergic reaction.
According to David Schilansky, the company’s chief operating officer, the patch would ideally make it possible for people with peanut allergies to consume small amounts of peanuts after the patch had been worn daily for about a year.
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To quantify it, if someone couldn’t tolerate eating 1/10th of one whole peanut when they started initially using the patch, they would hopefully be able to eat about a handful of peanuts without an allergic reaction just a few years after daily use. Schilansky says the exact timeline for the effect of the patch is still being pinned down, according to Business Insider.
“When you cannot afford more than a 10th of a peanut that’s really progress,” Schilansky told Business Insider.
This approach at treating allergies is very different from the conventional practices. Previously, the only way to reduce an allergy was through a “desensitization” process by gradually introducing small amounts of the allergen into the body. So those with a peanut allergy would have to eat a peanut outright, but obviously, this method is a pretty risky one since it could lead to an allergic reaction spread through the body via the bloodstream.
“This is a new method of immunotherapy,” Pierre-Henri Benhamou, DBV’s CEO, told Business Insider. Benhamou says that DBV plans to extend its research to see if the patch would be suitable for other common food allergies, like eggs and milk. The researchers will also explore non-food allergies that are connected to asthma.
So far, the patch seems pretty promising. It just became the first of its kind to enter phase 3 clinical trials, which is the last human trial needed before the FDA can evaluate the patch and potentially approve it. The phase 3 trial is taking place in five different countries, and DBV plans to enroll over 330 children.
This new kind of immunotherapy could produce some incredible results as it evolves in the future. Plus, it could bring the joy of peanut butter to everyone’s life.
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