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Doctors In Chicago Work To Make Kids Less Sensitive To Food Allergies

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CHICAGO (CBS) — Food allergies can be life threatening for some children.

But as CBS 2’s Mary Kay Kleist reports, medical researchers from around the world, and here in Chicago, are working on ways to make children less sensitive to the foods they’re allergic to.

“I got really sick all of a sudden. And I knew something was wrong. I started having trouble breathing,” said 17-year-old Brian Kite, who is allergic to milk, soy, peas, beans and peanuts.

And like so many other allergy patients, he carries an Epi Pen wherever he goes.

“It’s just like a shot when you have trouble breathing, or when you’re going into shock, the Epi Pen is used when it gets really serious,” said Kite, who said he had to use the Epi Pen six times in his life.

For now, allergy patients can only carry an Epi Pen, and avoid contact with the foods.

But researchers at Lurie Children’s Hospital are conducting three studies that may give patients other options in the future.

“If these treatments work, it’s very exciting,” said Dr. Melanie Makhija.

Brian Kite is participating in the first one, studying whether a pill containing nine Chinese herbs can block severe reactions to peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish.

“It was shown to work in mice. And now the trial is going on to see if it works as well in humans,” said Makhija.

Brian took ten pills, three times a day, for six months–not knowing if he was taking the herbs or a placebo.

“I would love to experience life without food allergies, or with less-severe food allergies. That would be awesome,” said Kite.

Twelve-year-old Theo Tougne is one of 220 patients worldwide participating in the peanut patch study.

“If I had a full peanut, my throat would probably begin to close up and be wheezing and get swollen and red,” said Tougne.

He’s wearing a patch every day for a year. The patch may contain peanut protein, or just a placebo.

His mother India said, “I hope that at the end of the year he will have gained a resistance to the peanut allergy, and it will no longer be dangerous for him. That would be fantastic.”

With the number of patients with food allergies on the rise, researchers are hopeful.

“If we are able to find something that works, and doesn’t have a lot of side effects, and it’s safe to use, it really will change a lot of lives,” said Makhija.

Researchers at Lurie will be recruiting patients for the third study.

This one will be with wheat. Patients will eat tiny bits of wheat every day in a controlled environment to compare how much wheat protein they can tolerate at the end of the study as compared to the beginning.

Here’s the link to Lurie Children’s Hospital to learn more about current research programs: