Q: Is oral immunotherapy (OIT) a cure for food allergies?
A: Although early research from our group and others is promising, many questions remain unanswered. Occasionally, in medical research promising findings from early studies are not confirmed in larger, more rigorous studies.
We believe that oral immunotherapy can offer some degree of protection from accidental reactions (i.e. desensitization), as long as the treatment is continued. However, this process involves a significant daily commitment for years, and perhaps for life. In addition, some patients cannot remain on treatment due to side effects. Finally, the effect of the treatment might not be permanent. Therefore, it is premature to consider this approach curative.
Q: What other possibilities are there for food allergy treatment?
A: The current standard of medical care for food-allergic patients consists of strict avoidance of the allergen and carrying emergency medications (such as epinephrine) at all times in the event of accidental ingestion.
In January 2020, the FDA approved a medication called Palforzia. This is an oral immunotherapy (OIT) treatment for patients with peanut allergy and is currently the only FDA approved oral immunotherapy regimen. Palforzia can be accessed through the UNC Children’s Specialty Clinics. Our group has extensively studied this product in clinical trials, and while some individuals may receive protection against accidental reactions, Palforzia may not be the right fit for everyone.
Although many research groups are developing other new treatments, all are investigational at this time and should only be administered in research settings by experienced investigators. Of note, UNC Children’s Specialty Clinics are not offering any off-label food allergy treatments at this time.
Q: Our family would like to volunteer for your research studies. How can we find out more information?
A: Thank you for your interest in participating in food allergy research. We encourage any interested participants to join our secured, HIPAA-compliant study registry. Please contact us if you have further questions.
Q: We don’t live in North Carolina but would still like to participate. Can we arrange to travel for the study or relocate to the area?
A: We appreciate your enthusiasm for our work, but in our experience, this type of research cannot be done safely over long distances. As such, we are only able to accommodate families who live in the surrounding areas (no more than a 4-hour drive). Due to high demand for involvement in our studies, we currently maintain a waitlist and give preference to those already living in our community.
Q: My child is allergic to a food(s) other than peanut. Will you be starting other trials soon with different foods?
A: We are always interested in new studies, and at any given time have several in development. We welcome anyone with food allergy, regardless of specific food, to sign up for our registry if they are interested in research participation.
Q: We appreciate the food allergy research that UNC and other centers are doing. How can we help support and expand it?
A: Please consider joining a local or national food allergy support group to help raise awareness of the problem. You can also write your congressman or congresswoman to advocate for increased food allergy research funding, or consider organizing a fundraiser of your own. If you would like to find out more about making a contribution in support of the food allergy research being done at UNC, please contact the Office of External Affairs for UNC Children’s at (919) 843-3948.