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Asthma Drug Helped Desensitize Body to Food Allergies at a Faster Rate

Update Date: Feb 28, 2014 11:01 AM EST

Allergies complicate people's lives because they force people to constantly watch what they eat. For some people, it only takes one bite to cause a fatal reaction. Due to the potential dangers tied to allergies, researchers have attempted to find ways of desensitizing the body, making the body more tolerable to the allergenic foods. According to a new study, researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford developed an asthma drug that can speed up the desensitization process for patients with several food allergies.

The research team conducted two phase-1 safety trials analyzing the effects of introducing people to their allergens in extremely small increments. In the most recent study, the researchers recruited 25 children and adult participants who had multiple food allergies. For eight weeks, the participants received the asthma drug, omalizumab, which lowers the activity levels of the body's IgE molecules. These molecules are antibodies that have been tied to the body's allergic responses.

After the taking the drug, the patients were introduced to their food allergens in small amounts. The researchers discovered that this group of participants was able to tolerate higher portions of their allergens. By the median of 18 weeks, the participants could eat up to 20 grams a day without suffering from an allergic reaction.

The researchers were able to conclude that omalizumab was capable of speeding up the desensitization process by comparing this group's results to a group of participants from an earlier study that did not use the asthma drug. In that study, which was conducted by the same research team, 25 children and adult participants were introduced to their food allergens in slow increments. The participants consumed highly purified food powdered versions of the foods that they were allergic to. The researchers found that after a median of 85 weeks, the participants could eat up to 20 grams of the allergenic food proteins without suffering from any allergic reactions.

The desensitization method, called oral immunology that the researchers used in both studies was conducted under close doctor's supervision at a hospital. Participants who suffered from any allergic reactions were treated with epinephrine. The researchers treated up to five food allergies even though many of the participants had more than five. The researchers reported finding a 'bystander effect," for some of the food allergies.

"We saw this 'bystander effect' in about 60 percent of patients, where, for example, we gave someone pecan powder and the person became desensitized to walnut, too," said Kari Nadeau, M.D., Ph.D., senior author of the study. "In the future, we'll be trying to understand why some people have the bystander effect during clinical trials and some don't."

The study was published in Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology.

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