TUESDAY, May 31, 2022 (HealthDay News) -- For families of children with peanut allergy, there may be some hope. Researchers say they're working on a treatment that can create immune system changes that put kids into remission from their allergy.
A parent of a child who participated in an allergy trial in Australia said her 9-year-old daughter, Stella, has been in remission for almost four years and eats peanuts regularly. (Managing a food allergy requires avoiding the food).
"Stella's quality of life has improved considerably since the trial," said her mom, Ju Lee Ng.
Stella no longer has to always check food labels for peanuts. Her level of freedom has increased and her anxiety has dropped dramatically, her mother reported.
"We previously had to avoid travel to countries that use lots of peanuts in the food, including Malaysia, where my husband and I are from," Ng said. "Shortly after Stella achieved remission we were so excited to be able to travel on a family holiday to Thailand. We tried local dishes and enjoyed an amazing holiday without the stress that Stella could have an allergic reaction."
Led by researchers from Murdoch Children's Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia, and the Telethon Kids Institute in Australia, the study showed that gene networks are rewired after a combination treatment of a probiotic and peanut oral immunotherapy (gradual introduction of the allergenic food). The reprogramming appears to shut down the allergic immune response that caused the food allergy.
"The immunological changes leading to remission of peanut allergy were largely unknown," said lead researcher Mimi Tang, a professor of allergy and immunology at Murdoch Children's.
Previous studies had mostly focused on examining the levels of gene expression but did not explore how genes interact with one another. It made sense to look at communication between the genes, the researchers said.
"What we found was profound differences in network connectivity patterns between children who were allergic and those who were in remission," Tang said in an institute news release. "These same changes were also seen when we compared gene networks before and after immunotherapy in the children who achieved remission following immunotherapy."
Food allergies affect about 10% of infants and 5% to 8% of children around the world.
For this study, the researchers worked with 62 peanut allergic children ages 1 to 10 years old. The children were randomized to receive a treatment of a probiotic with a gradual introduction of peanut immunotherapy or a placebo for 18 months.
About 74% who had the combination treatment achieved remission from their allergy. About 4% of those in the placebo group also achieved remission.
A separate trial found that peanut immunotherapy alone was also highly effective at inducing remission and desensitization. In that, about half of the children achieved remission.
The study was published May 25 in the journal Allergy.
This approach is still far from prime time, however. Desensitization often waned after treatment ended or even during ongoing maintenance dosing, said co-author Sarah Ashley, a Murdoch Children's researcher.
"Certain changes in the allergen-specific immune cells, called Th2 cells, are critical to achieving lasting remission," Ashley said in the release. "Th2 cells are essential for generating allergen-specific antibodies and the development of food allergy. We found that the Th2 signaling that drives allergy is 'turned off' in children in remission."
Ng said it was reassuring to learn that new treatments could be developed off the back of the latest study results.
"This research will give a lot of hope to families who have children with a peanut allergy," Ng said in the release. “We hope other families can experience the same sense of comfort we now have with a child who can eat peanut freely without fear of a reaction."
The trial used an allergy immunotherapy from Australian biotech company Prota Therapeutics.
The American College of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology has more on food allergies.
SOURCE: Murdoch Children's Research Institute, news release, May 25, 2022