Stanford allergy program changes lives

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015
Allergy program changes lives
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A clinical trial at the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital could change the lives of children who suffer from sever food allergies.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (KGO) -- Scanning the menu at a lunch counter used to be a serious ordeal for drew Kryzan. The eighth grader from Los Altos has suffered from a peanut allergy so severe, it could literally take his breath away.

"You can feel your throat closing up and then you can feel your face swelling," Drew explains.

His mom Amy spent nerve wracking years, closely monitoring Drew's diet for even traces of peanut.

"Just knowing there's a food out there that could stop your child from breathing, literally in seconds is scary and stressful, you can't be with them all the time, and can't control every little thing," she says.

Then Drew's family enrolled in a groundbreaking clinical trial that's changing the way patients are treated for a variety of food allergies. It's run by Kari Nadeau, M.D., Ph.D., a researcher at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford. Her team employs a technique that might seemed frightening at first, having patients actually consume the foods they're so dangerously allergic to in an effort to desensitize their immune system.

"Desensitizing isn't new to our world. Actually Alexander the Great used to do it. He would de-sensitize his body for poison before going out to battle," Dr. Nadeau explains.

The tightly controlled regimen begins with micro-dosing. Proteins are extracted from the allergy inducing food, and processed into flour like grains that can be carefully administered in tiny doses -- known as oral immunotherapy.

"You can't do this at home," warns Dr. Nadeau. "They have small grains of sand, like wheat flour, and we slowly give it back to the individual and we up-dose ever two weeks, 25 percent very slowly until their body's de-sensitize."

The technique had proven successful but slow in early trials. In the case of patients allergic to several different foods, it could take years to complete the regimen. But now, two breakthroughs have cut that time dramatically.

First Nadeau's trial proved that allergy patients could be safely dosed with proteins from multiple foods at once. That combination strategy proved even more effective when used in tandem with an existing allergy drug called Xolair, from Bay Area based Genentech.

"So we were able to take that time period of 3-4 years, and get it down to three months," says Dr. Nadeau.

Drew now consumes roughly eight peanuts a day to ensure that his system stays immune to the peanut allergy. Nadeau says future research may determine if that safety regimen is even necessary. But for drew it's a small price to pay.

"You don't have to worry as much. You can eat birthday cake, you can go to sleep overs, you can eat with your friends when you want to!," he says smiling.

One quick note, Nadeau's allergy program is run at a satellite clinic at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View.

Written and produced by Tim Didion.