Eliminating Peanut Allergies with Immunotherapy
Julie Poulsen learned she was allergic to peanuts at two years old. “I almost died in my mother’s arms after having a Snicker’s candy bar at a friend’s house,” says Julie. “I had over 20 reactions growing up in the early 90s.” Julie had to be cautious her whole life, reading labels, being aware of her surroundings, not accepting unfamiliar snacks and keeping her Benadryl and EpiPen close by.
She follows the latest research and discovered a peanut allergy oral immunotherapy clinical trial offered at Virginia Mason. Julie drives from Auburn, Wash., to participate in the study. She sees Virginia Mason allergists and BRI clinical researchers David Robinson, MD, and David Jeong, MD, who is also principal investigator for the study. “For the past year, I’ve taken a daily dose of the study medication,” she says. “After an initial food challenge to test my sensitivity, I started a dose and gradually increased it every two weeks for six months and then continued with a maintenance dose for another six months.”
The medication was either a peanut protein powder or a placebo powder. The research aimed to test if people could become desensitized to peanuts by taking small amounts of peanut powder each day and increase the dose until they no longer had a reaction to peanuts or had only a mild reaction.
BRI renown allergy researcher Erik Wambre, PhD, and his team are analyzing the blood samples from centers worldwide conducting the study. Dr. Wambre has discovered the allergen-specific T cells of the immune system that cause allergic disease. “Using our new tools and technology, it is now possible to look at blood samples of people with allergies and observe what these immune cells are doing,” says Dr. Wambre. “We can see how they respond to an allergen and to a vaccine like the peanut protein powder. If the vaccine is working, these cells decrease and then disappear.”
Though Julie didn’t know which medication she received at the time, she guessed after the first dose that it was the peanut protein because of mild reactions she experienced initially. Though the results of the clinical study have not been released, Julie personally had a good result.
Tolerating Peanut Protein
“For me, it was a miracle! I can tolerate peanut protein now,” she says. “Trace amounts of peanut protein used to send me into anaphylactic shock. Swelling, vomiting, tightness in my throat, the use of Benadryl and an EpiPen used to be the drill. Now my body still recognizes when peanuts are introduced into my system, but instead of a full reaction, I just get a tingly tongue that subsides on its own, without medication, after 15 to 20 minutes.”
“The benefits of the result of my participation have been astounding,” she exclaims. “The peace of mind of not having to be on high alert has been totally worth the burden of a daily medication. I hope this research can help others with peanut allergies too. It was hard to grow up with a life-threatening allergy; I wanted the opportunity to improve or alleviate the burden for other families.”
Currently, she will have to take peanut protein on a daily basis to maintain her tolerance. “Based on my experience, I encourage anyone who can, to participate in clinical trials to help advance medicine.”
For more information on peanut and food allergy studies, visit BenaroyaResearch.org.
Originally published in BRING IT ON newsletter - Fall 2017
September 8, 2017
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