Peanut allergy study at USF recruiting more patients

Peanuts
(AP Photo/Patrick Sison)

TAMPA BAY, Fla. (WFLA) — Accidental exposure to peanuts can be a serious and sometimes deadly problem for children with severe peanut allergies.

One of the biggest, and first, studies of accidental exposure to peanut allergies is underway at the University of South Florida and is so far having promising outcomes. The global study is now recruiting more patients for the next round of testing.

One of the current participants is 12-year-old Madison Sheriff. She had a severe allergic reaction to peanut butter when she was a baby. Today, she always carries an EpiPen, in case she’s exposed to peanuts.

“I swell up, I puff up, I throw up. I do a lot of ups,” Madison said.

The 7th grader is one of approximately 500 people in the world participating in the study. It exposes severely allergic people to tiny amounts of peanut, mixed with food, and provides an experimental daily treatment to reduce reactions as the exposure to peanut is slowly increased.

The treatment aims to make patients able to tolerate up to four peanuts and is not meant to be a cure for allergies.

Dr. Thomas B. Casale, the principal investigator on the study at the University of South Florida, explains that the immunotherapy treatments are targeted to patients who are at risk for accidental exposure.

“The treatment seems to protect you from a bit higher level, perhaps the equivalent of two to four peanuts, as opposed to just one,” Dr. Casale said. “That will prevent most of the accidental-exposure-induced anaphylactic or allergic reactions.”

As participants in one of the earlier phases of the trial, Madison and her mother Yvette have spent hours in the University of South Florida’s Asthma, Allergy, and Immunology clinical research unit in Tampa, passing time playing cards and watching television while she’s gradually exposed to higher levels of peanut and monitored for reactions. They drive from Riverview, sometimes arriving at 6 a.m. so Madison can undergo treatment before school. Yvette says she thinks, in the long term, it’s worth it.

“It’s going to take away some of that fear that if she accidentally ingests the peanut, she will know, ‘Hey I’m starting to have a symptom,’ but it will not be as severe. It will not take her into anaphylactic shock,” Yvette said.

The family won’t know if Madison is receiving the treatment or the placebo for another two months. At that time, she’ll undergo a food challenge, and will ingest peanuts to gauge her reaction. But so far, Madison has remained healthy. At the end of this phase of the research, Madison will be eligible to continue the treatment, or receive the treatment if, in fact, she’s on the placebo.

Dr. Casale says it’s too early to speculate on the outcome of the study but results, at least at USF, are promising.

“The people that are on the active drug are able to tolerate much more peanut than they were in the past, so that’s encouraging,” he said, adding that global data on earlier phases of the study will be available later this year.

The research clinic is now recruiting children ages four to 17 for the next round of the study, which is expected to last six months and will not include a food challenge.

Participants must have had a clinical diagnosis of severe peanut allergies, and be able to commit to multiple visits to the research lab. Initial visits last around an hour and a half, and maintenance visits take about 30 minutes.

For more information on becoming part of the research, contact the University of South Florida Asthma, Allergy, and Immunology clinical research unit at 813-631-4024.

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