2015 in Review: Food Allergy Highlights and Advancements

Dr. JJ

Dr. JJ Levenstein, MD, FAAP, is a pediatrician, president and co-founder of MD Moms and chair of the National Peanut Board’s Food Allergy Education Advisory Council.

2015 has been a big year when it comes to food allergies. There has been a surge of important science and many upcoming new research studies look promising – especially in the realm of peanut allergy. As a pediatrician, these findings come at such an important time.  We finally have data that is solidly based in great science, and very likely to cut deeply into our food allergy rates.  For parents, these discoveries are game changers, especially for parents of young infants and children.  And for the peanut industry, the goal of reducing allergies to peanuts has become a reality.  With that said, here is a brief synopsis of some of just a few of the top food allergy advancement highlights in 2015:

LEAP study suggests early introduction of peanut protein reduces prevalence of allergy occurrence

In February, the results of a landmark study showing up to an 86% reduction in peanut allergy risk was released, making headlines worldwide.  The LEAP (Learning Early About Peanut Allergy) study, led by Dr. Gideon Lack of Kings College, London, UK, followed 640 children who were at high risk for developing peanut allergies because they had been diagnosed with egg allergy or had moderate to severe eczema.  After skin testing and oral food challenges, the children, between 4 and 11 months of age, were randomized to either eat peanut protein or avoid peanut protein and were followed for five years. In an editorial accompanying the study results, Rebecca S. Gruchalla, M.D., Ph.D and Hugh A. Sampson, M.D. wrote, “…we believe that because the results of this trial are so compelling, and the problem of the increasing prevalence of peanut allergy so alarming, new guidelines should be forthcoming soon.”

Read more in this previous Q&A blog post with Dr. Gideon Lack.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has endorsed a recommendation on the introduction of foods containing peanuts to high-risk infants ages 4 to 11 months

In September 2015, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)  endorsed a recommendation on the introduction of foods containing peanuts to “high-risk” infants between ages 4 and 11 months.  These interim guidelines come as a result of the findings of the LEAP study that were released earlier this year. According to AAP, “The interim guidance summarizes the evidence that finds early peanut introduction is safe and effective in infants at high risk of peanut allergy.”

You can find out more about the guidelines and some tips on ways to introduce peanut products to infants in my recent blog post.

The Peanut Allergy Panacea: Is a hypoallergenic peanut possible?

There have been several new developments with the hypoallergenic peanut, which all started last year with Dr. Jianme Yu, a food and nutrition researcher at North Carolina A&T’s School of Agriculture and Environmental Science, along with a team and support from USDA-ARS, who found a way to treat peanuts and reduce their allergens by, as they claim, about 98 percent. The treatment consisted of pre-treating shelled and skinless peanuts with a food-grade enzyme.  Similar processes have been developed by a few other companies/teams. You can read more about those by checking out this blog on the hypoallergenic peanut.

My concern is that this particular highlight might create the impression that a 100% “safe” peanut can be created.  As a clinician, I have to harken back to the importance of understanding the term “hypoallergenic.” Hypoallergenic does not mean allergy-free. It means “having little likelihood of causing an allergic response.” The reality is hypoallergenic peanut proponents have a long way to go in the clinical testing process from the clinician’s point of view and a long road ahead from a manufacturer’s point of view.

The good news is that we can currently start to create a real dent in food allergies by making sure clinicians caring for families are aware of the LEAP study and interim guidelines, that our messaging is always based in strong science, and that we continue to support the brilliant research that will get us all closer to a safer world, when it comes to food allergies.  2015 was a great year. May 2016 be even better!

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