As an adult living his entire life with a severe peanut allergy, Dan never imagined there would be a day when he would be able to eat a peanut safely. Just two years old when he had his first reaction, Dan stopped breathing after eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Luckily, he reached the hospital in time for life-saving treatment. But after many subsequent trips to the emergency room as he got older, he knew he wanted a safer life for himself.
Being an engineer, Dan applied his inclination to problem-solve to his own life and began searching for a possible therapy. Eventually, he learned of the work being conducted at the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy and Asthma Research at Stanford and was admitted into an oral immunotherapy trial in 2011. Like many of his fellow food allergy patients, Dan reacted to a minute dose of his allergen during his screening for the trial—just 1/1600th of a peanut.
He has come a long way since then.
Now consuming 17 peanuts a day, Dan recalls the moment he realized just how much his risk has diminished since entering the trial. After taking a bite of a sandwich in a restaurant he had frequented many times before, he noticed that it unexpectedly contained peanuts. “I was completely fine and had no reaction,” he recounts. “This was a huge milestone for me. I would have been in the hospital emergency room if this had happened before completing the oral immunotherapy trial. That experience gave me a great feeling of success. It was worth all the effort.”
Since its inception, the Center has treated numerous adult patients, many of them having to overcome a lifelong fear of consuming their allergen. According to the Center's Physician Assistant Tina Dominguez, the end result of a food allergy study doesn’t necessarily vary across age groups. However, it can be more challenging for an adult to fit a research trial into their daily life. Many of the Center's trials initially require all-day visits to the clinic, followed by weekly or bi-weekly visits over the course of a year or more. To be most successful, adult trial participants also require the support of their employers and family members.
Managing the daily risks and fears of living with food allergies often becomes a large part of adult patients’ personal identity, and adjustment to new daily habits can be a challenge. This can be liberating for some, but daunting for others as they adjust to eating out more freely, traveling without ever-present risk, or trying new experiences that were previously limited for them. Key to helping trial participants go through the life-changing experience of a food allergy study is the Center’s emphasis on guiding each patient through the process and understanding how to treat each individual study participant.
As the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy and Asthma Research at Stanford advances towards developing a long-lasting treatment for food allergies, the Center is working to positively impact food allergy patients of all ages. And adult food allergy sufferers can play a significant role in the research by participating in trials for which they might be eligible.