Peanut allergy injection may be life-changing for over 1 million kids and teens

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There may be a positive development for the 1.2 million children and teens battling a peanut allergy. In a study released Thursday, researchers from Stanford University revealed that they have found an injection that has the potential to 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 more and more of the peanut protein in the injections, and monitored how they reacted. The results were extremely positive. Fifteen days after the shot, nearly 75 percent of the participants who were given the injection were able to tolerate a little bit 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 deduced that it has the potential to “desensitize peanut-allergic participants” and prevent life-threatening allergic reactions 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.

Overall, if the injection proves effective in further studies, it could prove life-changing 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.

The research is preliminary, but definitely a “step forward” for those with serious allergies. 

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.”

There could be several hurdles with the drug: limited study size, how often the injection would need to be administered (monthly) and the fact that it is, indeed given by injection, which might be a detractor to some patients. 

Peanut allergies have tripled in the last decade, but researchers say that it's a "step forward."