Hunter research helps find peanut allergy

A NEW and less invasive testing method for peanut allergy has been developed at John Hunter Children’s Hospital - and will help in the search for a cure.

To diagnose a peanut allergy, a child is sometimes required to eat some the nut so the severity of the reaction can be monitored and a treatment plan developed.

Called food challenges, the test is always done at a hospital because of the risk of a severe anaphylactic reaction.

Staff specialist for paediatric allergy and immunology Dr Rani Bhatia and her research team have found a way to avoid this traumatic experience.

“It is a breathing test to measure the chemical in the breath which is nitric oxide,” she said.

“If there is a lot of the chemical it is bad and you can use it to predict how severe the allergic reaction will be.”

Dr Bhatia said it was hoped that this would reduce food challenges by 70 per cent.

She said the breathing test combined with a blood test, would mean improved accuracy in the diagnosis. 

“There is also a blood test that can measure the specific biomarkers,” she said.

“The blood test has been around for a while now - the novel thing we are doing is measuring the breath.

“It means we’re able to predict if they are going to have a severe allergic reaction to the peanut.”

Dr Bhatia said she that this new discovery and further research and monitoring of the biomarkers could one day lead to a cure.

Nicolas Maas, 14, has an “extreme” reaction to peanuts and said it would make a huge difference if food challenges could be avoided.

He had is first one two years ago and described it as “horrible”.

“I felt like I was going to die, my throat felt like it was closing up and I couldn’t breathe – it was the most terrifying thing I have ever experienced,” he said. 

He was in the children’s hospital yesterday for a study that is monitoring whether there are changes in the amount of nitric oxide in his breath.

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