For nearly 15 million Americans, sitting down to a meal or grabbing a snack comes with a whole host of considerations because of food allergies. An allergic reaction can range from mild symptoms to critical flare-ups that require emergency care. Of the eight major food allergens including milk, eggs, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish – peanut allergies affect over 3 million Americans. Food allergies are especially pesky since most people are allergic to more than one food.
The prevalence of food allergies has prompted researchers to focus on new ways of treating the condition. A patch called Viaskin developed by DBV Technologies, a biotech company based in France, aims to help protect against peanut allergies. Is this too good to be true, or can a patch really prevent peanut allergies?
Food Allergy 911
Peanut allergies account for around 125,000 emergency room visits each year. Unfortunately, nearly 200 of these allergic reactions prove fatal. Surprisingly, peanut allergies in children tripled from 1997 to 2008. It's now estimated that nearly 1 in 13 children in every classroom has a food allergy. Fortunately, around 20% of children that are diagnosed with a peanut allergy will outgrow the condition.
How Does Viaskin Work?
It may seem counterintuitive, but the Viaskin patch works by exposing the patient to a small amount of peanut protein. To understand the amount used in the patch, consider that it would take 1,000 patches to equal one whole peanut. This protein exposure helps the body react normally to the harmless protein instead of reacting as if it's a harmful protein. Allergy shots are based on this same principle. The Viaskin patch must be replaced every 24-hours to work properly.
Rating the Results
Testing is an important part of bringing a new medical treatment to the masses. Early tests showed Viaskin helped 83.3% of participants ages 6 to 11 years old eat 10 times more peanuts without negative consequences. At the end of one year, this percentage dropped to 53.6% of participants showing the same improvement. Researchers have an interesting theory as to why the patch seems significantly more effective in younger participants. The treatment relies on certain cells found in hair follicles – something more prevalent in younger participants. Since the patch covers more hair follicles found in younger patients the results in this age group are better.
However, the most recent phase of testing hasn't produced the anticipated results. The improvement between patients using Viaskin and those using a placebo wasn't significant enough to warrant a successful result. DBV researchers argue that the patch results improve the longer it's worn. While the jury is still out on Viaskin achieving FDA-approval, those suffering from food allergies hopefully await more advancements and treatment options.