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Breakthrough peanut allergy study in Florida hopes to save lives from accidental exposure

8-year-old Lincoln had his first reaction to peanuts at 3 years old. Now, he can have a small amount of peanut butter with no reaction.

TAMPA, Fla. — You really can't go anywhere without seeing a warning about peanuts.

You probably know someone who is allergic.

Right now, the University of South Florida is conducting a breakthrough study for children with peanut allergies in the hopes it will save kids from accidental exposure.

The treatment is now one step closer to FDA approval.

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Even though 8-year-old Lincoln Newhall gets to play his favorite game on his Switch, this isn't his favorite place to be. But he knows it's an important place.

“Because there's pretty much peanut everywhere," he said.

We first told you about Lincoln in August 2018, when he could take the equivalent of an entire peanut with virtually no side effects. 

He's been coming to USF Health for two and a half years as part of a peanut allergy study. At just 3 years old, he had his first severe reaction to peanuts.

“He had a small amount of peanut butter on toast and his whole body was in hives and he was vomiting," his father said.

Now, he can eat that with no reaction.

The immunotherapy doesn't mean Lincoln will get to freely eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but if he accidentally ingests something containing peanut, he won't be at risk of getting extremely sick.

Lincoln is part of what are called food challenges with AR101, which is a peanut powder. He does this treatment twice a week.

Read: Largest-ever clinical trial for peanut allergy advances pediatric treatment closer to FDA approval

Here's how it works:

During this visit, he started with 300 milligrams -- equal to one peanut.

Then, 30 minutes later, he got 600 milligrams -- two peanuts.

This continued every 30 minutes until the highest dose of 2,000 milligrams -- seven peanuts. 

That's when he had a reaction.

“He began having some wheezing, we noticed some discoloration, we noticed some flushing around his neck and maybe a little flushing on his face, not distinct but enough," Michelle Twitmyer, clinical research coordinator at USF Health, said. "Then he started coughing, and when the doctor checked him, he had some wheezing. So we treated him immediately with epinephrine and then an antihistamine followed up.”

Lincoln is one of 20 kids in this study, but he's one of almost 6 million children in the U.S. with a peanut allergy.

Even small amounts can cause severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reactions. This part of the study is uncomfortable, but Lincoln knows it’s for good.

“It keeps me from getting sick and have to go to the hospital to get probably more shots," he said.

After his symptoms are gone, he’s watched for two hours before he can leave.

“I think this is such an incredibly brave group of kids who came in and did this study," Twitmyer said. "They didn't really know the outcome when they started, we hadn't done other trials with food allergies before, so they didn't know the outcome and they were still willing to come in and do it.”

It's not known if the allergy will ever go away or if this would be a kind of cure.
But what it does do is lift a huge weight off his parents' shoulders.

“The thought of a cake that says "may contain peanut," he can have that and not have to miss out on that," his father said. "Almost everything says on the label "may contain peanut" and that "may contain peanut" is not something we worry about.”

Studies like this are rare and enrollment is short and exclusive. But there is another one at USF Health that's just starting. It's one of only 25 places in the country doing the study. 

USF said it is continuing these types of studies to learn more about the long-term safety and effectiveness of peanut allergy immunotherapy. This type of treatment may need to be maintained for years.

If your child is 6-17 years old and has a known peanut allergy they could qualify. Find more information about this study here or by calling 813-631-4024.

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