(NBC News) – The number of children allergic to peanuts in this country has been slowly rising over the past two decades.
While there’s no cure, doctors are hopeful several types of experimental immunotherapy could help desensitize some of the most severely affected patients.
13-year-old Natalie Giorgi died last month after taking just one bite of a dessert.
She hadn’t realized it was covered in peanut butter.
Natalie’s case is haunting to parents whose children suffer from a food allergy.
The prevalence of peanut allergies has tripled in the past two decades.
“Literally every time I go to the clinic, I see someone with peanut allergy,” says Dr. Wesley Burks of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.
Dr. Burks has been studying ways of desensitizing patients to peanuts.
He’s seen some success with his studies of oral immunotherapy.
In a controlled setting doctors give very tiny amounts of peanut protein to patients, slowly increasing the dose and teaching the immune system there’s nothing to fear.
Other versions of experimental immunotherapy are in the works worldwide, including a skin patch.
“They take the patch, and they impregnate it with peanut powder that will leach out on your skin, so they’re just replacing the patch every day, just like you would in immunotherapy,” Dr. Burks explains.
Results from studies on the patch aren’t expected until at least 2014 and likely would not be used clinically for another decade, but hope for a cure is there and that some day tragedies like Natalie’s may be prevented.