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Patch would treat peanut allergy by feeding protein to patient

November 28, 2016

A small patch that would deliver peanut protein through the skin could help young adults and children who suffer from peanut allergies avoid life-threatening reactions if they are accidentally exposed.

For now, the idea is still undergoing testing. But the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases announced last month that such a patch may eventually be introduced to the market, pending an ongoing clinical trial.

And it’s potentially a very big market. More than 1 percent of all children in the U.S. have a peanut allergy and the number of kids with peanut allergies has nearly tripled over the past 20 years.

Children enrolled in the clinical trial have worn the patch every day to train their immune systems to tolerate peanuts. So far, results show that it is more effective for kids under the age of 12. The technology may eventually help patients like 9-year-old Chase Broadway, who lives in Charleston and was diagnosed with both an egg and peanut allergy when she was a baby.

“She’s grown out of the egg allergy, but we obviously still have to take precautions to avoid peanuts,” said her mom Jessica Broadway.

Dr. Maria Streck, an allergy specialist at the Medical University of South Carolina, is Chase’s doctor. She said the general public would be surprised to learn how many patients have peanut allergies.

Part of the problem, Streck said, is that parents have been historically told to avoid introducing high-risk foods to infants.

“But what we’ve found is that we’re actually missing windows of opportunity to introduce these foods to babies because they wouldn’t have developed the true allergy yet,” she said. “If we start earlier, then it can probably reduce the rate of food allergies over time.”

Chase said her allergy hasn’t held her back from ballet, from playing the guitar, or from any of her other hobbies. But, she added, it’s “kind of annoying” to have her arm frequently pricked at the doctor’s office. She is required to undergo routine skin testing to measure her sensitivity to peanuts.

For a patient like Chase, Streck said the patch could prove to be a valuable asset.

“If Chase should happen to eat peanuts, the patch would help her from having a full reaction,” Streck said. “She could tolerate a small amount, which would provide enough time to get treatment.”

Jessica Broadway said she could see the patch being a benefit to her daughter, as long it’s safe.

“As a mother, I think it’s important to follow the warning signs and get appropriate medical care,” she said. “Don’t ignore it if your child has hives or other symptoms because a trip to the doctor could be life-saving.”