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After eight to 10 months of gradual dose increases, most can eat the peanut-flour equivalent of 15 peanuts daily, said Burks, who two years ago began reporting these signs of desensitization as long as children took their daily medicine.
Sunday's report takes the next big step. Nine children who'd taken daily therapy for 2 1/2 years were given a series of peanut challenges. Four in the initial study -- and a fifth who finished testing last week -- could stop treatment and avoid peanuts for an entire month and still have no reaction the next time they ate 15 whole peanuts. Immune-system changes suggest they're truly allergy-free, Burks said.
Scientists call that tolerance -- meaning their immune systems didn't forget and go bad again -- and it's a first for food allergy treatment, said Dr. Marshall Plaut of the National Institutes of Health.
"Anything that would enable kids to eat peanuts would be a major advance," Plaut said, cautioning that more study is needed. But "this paper, if it's correct, takes it to the next level. ... That is potentially very exciting."
Arkansas Children's Hospital has begun randomly assigning youngsters to eat either peanut flour or a dummy flour. The study is still under way but after the first year, the treated group ate the equivalent of 15 peanuts with no symptoms while the placebo group suffered symptoms to the equivalent of a single peanut, Burks said.
The treatment remains experimental, Burks stresses, although he hopes it will be ready for prime time in a few years.
And he isn't taking chances with the first five allergy-free kids. They're under orders to eat the equivalent of a tablespoon of peanut butter a day to keep their bodies used to the allergen.
Ryan Cassada says his mom sometimes "hides them in things so she can force me to eat it." Peanut butter cookies are OK, he says, just not straight peanut butter.
The battle is a small price, his mother said: "As much as I can get into him is fine with me. It's huge knowing he won't have a reaction."
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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