June 13, 2013
Pediatric allergist Robert Wood with his young patient, Lexi Rosa.
There was no doubt that Alexandra “Lexi” Rosa suffered food allergies—soon after her birth she was diagnosed with milk intolerance, at 21 months she got sick on peas, followed by signs of anaphylaxis when she tried some Thai chicken with peanuts. At the pediatric allergist’s office, there was also little doubt about her recommended course of treatment—avoid allergenic foods, treat reactions, and watch and wait to see if she outgrows her allergies.
For the next eight years Lexi’s parents followed the plan by managing her diet well at home and staying on the lookout for any signs of allergic reactions. But, like many parents of highly allergic children, they also worried constantly about her inadvertently ingesting an allergic substance at birthday parties or school. Looking for some relief, they learned about pediatric allergist Robert Wood’s food allergy research in which he exposes a child’s immune system to small doses of the culprit food, eventually retraining the body to accept the food as a normal, non-harmful substance. Wood, chief of the Division of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at the Children’s Center, had already conducted oral immunotherapy studies among children with milk allergy with promising results, and more recently with egg-allergic children.
“Children went from having serious allergic reactions after a morsel of cake to consuming eggs with minimal or no symptoms, and that, in and of itself, can give parents invaluable peace of mind,” says Wood of his most recent findings (The New England Journal of Medicine, July 19, 2012).
Indeed, more than a quarter of the patients in the trial had complete long-term elimination of egg-related allergic reactions—the holy grail of allergy therapy. Yet, even those who didn’t lose their allergies became better at tolerating higher doses of egg with only mild or no symptoms. A higher threshold of tolerance, Wood says, is an important clinical goal because it offers protection against serious allergic reactions from accidental or incidental exposures, some of which can be life-threatening.
Next on the horizon: A series of oral-immunotherapy trials for young children with peanut allergies, more egg therapy studies and the world’s first oral-immunotherapy study for patients with wheat allergies.
“If you’re the parent of a highly allergic child,” says Lexi’s mom, Michele Rosa, “it makes a huge difference to have someone with Dr. Wood’s expertise.”