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UNC Researchers: Early Intervention May Be Key To Fighting Peanut Allergies

raw peanuts
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Researchers at the UNC School of Medicine may be one step closer to treating life-threatening peanut allergies in children.

As part of a study to test the effectiveness of oral immunotherapy, researchers fed preschoolers allergic to peanuts increasing doses of peanut protein for two years. Eighty percent of participants reported no reaction to peanuts by the end of the test period.

Dr. Brian Vickery led the study, which was the first to target peanut allergies in children under three. He said treating food allergies early in life may be the key to reconfiguring a patient's immune response.

"We had hypothesized that by taking this somewhat unusual step of trying to treat these children right after they became allergic, that we would have better success than we do with this treatment when we start it when they're six or seven or eight years old, when we believe that their immune responses may have matured and may be more difficult to reverse," Vickery said.

The Centers for Disease Control reports more than three million children in the U.S. suffer from food allergies. That number may be on the rise, as a 2013 study showed pediatric food allergies increased roughly 50 percent between 1997 and 2011.

Vickery noted food allergies have a severe impact on the quality of life for families will allergic children. While more testing is needed, he said he's encouraged by the results of the oral immunotherapy study.

"We're optimistic that we've created a change with this treatment that allows someone to go from living with a chronic disease that is potentially life-threatening, to something that's much more manageable," he said.

The research was published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

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