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Tuesday, 5 December, 2000, 10:49 GMT
Bid to tackle peanut allergy
Peanut allergy
Patients may benefit from regular injections
Scientists have begun an experiment which they hope could counter deadly peanut allergies.

Teenager Aly Rush is one of a group of sufferers who have volunteered to take once-a-month shots designed to minimise the effect of her allergy.

Even though she is only 13 years old, Aly has been rushed to hospital four times after undergoing a life-threatening reaction to peanuts.

Patients are very desperate because there aren't any real treatments

Dr Donald Leung, National Jewish Medical and Research Center

She is so sensitive that her life was once put in danger by one of her classmates who had smeared peanut butter on their hands - even though Aly was not even sitting at the same table.

On another occasion she broke out in hives simply by breathing air in an airplane in which peanuts were served.

Aly is receiving a treatment designed to control levels of a body chemical called IgE, or immunoglobulin-E.

IgE plays a central role in asthma and other allergic reactions by stimulating immune cells to overreact when exposed to certain allergens.

Scientists are testing a product made by drug company Tanox which contains experimental antibodies designed to mop up IgE, leaving less to trigger a reaction.

In total 84 highly allergic people are taking part in the study.

Participants are fed peanuts in the hospital, resuscitation equipment on hand, to measure how much it takes to cause a reaction.

Then they get the shots, and later have their peanut reaction measured again.

A few patients tested so far have had a significant improvement in their symptoms.

It will take several years of study to know if the experimental shots work.

Even if the shots work, they will not be able to cure the allergy, but scientists hope the drug could control the condition.

'Patients are desperate'

Researcher Dr Donald Leung, of the National Jewish Medical and Research Center, Denver, said: "Patients are very desperate because there aren't any real treatments."

The number of people suffering from peanut allergy in the UK is thought to be increasing - and children are believed to be particularly at risk.

One in 200 children is estimated to have a peanut allergy.

David Reading, director of the Anaphylaxis Campaign, said: "We understand that the principle is correct, but this is very much an experimental technique and there's a long way to go.

"Living with peanut allergy can be extremely stressful. At the moment people rely on avoidance of the foods containing peanuts, and the carrying of adrenaline to treat a reaction.

"People are obviously hoping that new drugs will eventually offer them a greater degree of safety.

"But it would be wrong to raise their hopes at this early stage."

Peanut allergy is considered to be the most dangerous of all the food allergies.

While mildly allergic people may only suffer hives, the highly allergic rapidly go into potentially fatal anaphylactic shock.

Nobody is sure why peanuts, a legume more related to soy than tree nuts, are so allergenic.

But peanuts contain more complex proteins, a cause of food allergies, than many other foods.

Half of all allergy sufferers accidentally eat peanuts at least once every two years because peanut products are often found in apparently unrelated foodstuffs.

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