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UNC Research Could Help Children With Peanut Allergies Build Tolerance


Research led by UNC’s school of medicine has led to a new treatment for peanut allergies that could be available next year.

The research by Dr. Wesley Burks, which was published in November in the New England Journal of Medicine, shows that allergic children can build up a tolerance by consuming minuscule amounts of peanut in powder form. It’s a small tolerance – the equivalent of consuming only two or three peanuts. But Burks said that can be life-changing.

“For a normal accidental ingestion, that’s the difference between having a reaction and being protected from having a significant life-threatening or life-ending reaction,” Burks said.

Reactions like anaphylaxis, where the body goes into shock and breathing becomes restricted. Other allergic reactions include hives, rashes and vomiting.   

Burkes, who was recently named CEO of UNC Health Care, led a year-long experiment involving about 500 children. Doses were gradually increased and after six months about two-thirds of the children were able to tolerate a small amount of peanut with minimal side effects.

While it may seem easy, Burks cautioned parents of allergic children not to buy peanut powder and attempt to conduct the treatment themselves.

“You have to start at such a small amount, literally 1/1000th of a peanut, that to be able to do that on your own without guidance and medical help would be disastrous for a family,” Burks said.

There are about 3 million children in the United States with peanut allergies. California-based Aimmune Therapeutics is seeking FDA approval for a pill developed from the research. The company hopes it will be available by the third quarter of 2019.