There are all kinds of rules at school. No running in the halls. No gum chewing in class. But since the early 2000s, one rule has become more and more common. And important.
No peanuts allowed.
A severe reaction
There's a very good reason for this. A peanut allergy is no laughing matter. People with this condition can suffer severe reactions from even the smallest amount of the nut. Such allergies are pretty common, too, and if you have it, it is something you basically have to keep an eye on for the rest of your life.
So far the only way to address this problem was by banning and avoiding the nut. But there's nothing that scientists love more than a problem to solve. And this one? It may be close to finding itself a real solution.
That's because this problem now has a patch. A peanut patch.
Through the skin, not the blood
This patch has been getting tested for the past few years by an American company called DBV. Basically, it's a small circular patch that is worn by the allergy sufferer somewhere on their body (let's say the upper arm, for example). The patch contains a small amount of peanut protein.
Wait! Isn't that a terrible idea? Not exactly. By being placed on the skin, and not through the bloodstream, the protein is able to interact with the patient's immune system, while staying away from their blood. That's why they call it the Viaskin (which means "through the skin"). And why would anyone want to expose someone allergic to peanuts to the very protein that can endanger their life?
Pleased to meet you...now I know who to stop!
This is actually a common way to produce vaccines, or defenses against disease. You expose a person's immune system to a small amount of the virus/bacteria (or something that looks almost identical, but has been engineered to be harmless). The body's immune system sees what it looks like, and stores that information later. So if the meaner version of that virus arrives later on, the immune system can identify it quick and stop it from invading the body.
However, before this patch came along, the only way to try to "desensitize" a person to a nut allergy was to have that person eat tiny amounts of peanut over a long period of time. But because the nut made it to the bloodstream eventually, it was a very risky approach. This patch may change all of that.
Nut bad, patch. Nut bad at all.
We say "may" because, of course, scientists are still only in the trial, or testing, stage. Patients need to wear the patch constantly for three years to slowly allow the exposure to take effect. But the good news? 83% of children aged 6–11 who wore the patch for this amount of time could now eat 1000mg of peanuts with no reaction at all. This doesn't mean that they should be sitting down to a plate of peanut butter sandwiches anytime soon. But it does mean that they no longer need to worry about coming in contact with some hidden nuts in their food. For anyone who has a nut allergy, that's a really big deal!
The company is also exploring similar patches to address milk and egg allergies, as well as celiac disease (people who can't eat gluten). Here's hoping it'll be available for those who need it soon!