As I sit in my local coffee shop eating a protein bar called “Peanut Butter Supreme,” I’m suddenly acutely aware that my breakfast could potentially compromise the health of the woman next to me.
That’s because, depending on the severity, those suffering from peanut allergies may simply need to refrain from eating the offending item or — at the other extreme — risk a life-threatening reaction if even in the same room as someone eating a peanut butter protein bar. Approximately every three minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the Emergency Room, according to Food Allergy and Research Education.
Currently the only option for those with allergies is to avoid the food entirely. But French company DBV Technologies has come up with a promising solution using a nicotine-like patch and immunotherapy.
By wearing the quarter-sized Viaskin Peanut patch coated in peanut extract, users are exposed to small amounts of the legume. Over a three-year period, patients become desensitized to the allergen until they no longer need fear contact with a Reese’s Cup.
“At the end patients will be able to take in every kind of peanut. There will no more need to restrict their diet,” Pierre-Henri Benhamou, CEO of DBV Technologies told Fast Company. Volunteers in the early stages of the clinical trial were able to tolerate 10 times more of allergen from wearing the patch.
And now the FDA is fast-tracking the patch in hopes of getting it on the market by 2018. Although the cause is unknown, food allergies among children have increased roughly 50% between 1997 and 2011, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
While the patch may cure the allergy entirely, the goal isn’t to allow everyone to enjoy creamy spoonfuls of peanut butter, but to make heading to a restaurant a trauma-free experience and lessen the potentially fatal reaction if accidentally ingesting traces of nuts.
Also, the woman sitting next to me appears to be totally fine. Phew.
Top photo courtesy of DBV Technologies