Tragically, millions of people will never get to experience the amazing taste of peanut butter. Even more tragically, for some people a single peanut can be the difference between life and death. What I’m talking about of course, is the infamous peanut allergy.
Peanut allergies are one of the most common food allergies. Like all allergies, the peanut allergy results from the body overreacting to the presence of a harmless substances in the environment (in this case, some unknown protein found in peanuts). What happens is that the body views this substance as hostile and attempts to eliminate it by attacking it with antibodies. As a result, the cells in charge of recognizing and attacking the “foreign invader” end up releasing various molecules that then tell your throat to close up, your skin to swell, or your nose to drip. Another (fun and violent) way you could think of about it would be this: A Mexican citizen (allergen) crosses the border into the US and ends up in Los Angeles (your body). The local police (Mast cells and basophils) find out and over-react. They call up the national guard to sweep in, while telling Obama he needs to fire a nuclear missile (the manifestation of the allergic reaction) at the Mexican citizen, which Obama gladly does. Essentially, the body has now inflicted severe damage to itself in response to an innocuous threat.
Okay, that got weird. Anyway, peanut allergies can really hinder one’s life with having to worry about the threat of peanuts around every corner. One way to prevent peanut allergies is known as “immunotherapy”, which involves long-term exposure of the body to minuscule amounts of the allergen. This is where the term “Peanut Patch” comes in. Scientists gave patients suffering from peanut allergies an arm patch that slowly exposes the body to peanut particles over time. By wearing this patch for a year, patients reported being able to tolerate 4 whole peanuts! Okay, that may not sound like much, but over longer periods of time, that number might increase to a point where peanuts are no longer a threat or inconvenience to their life. Not only would this be great for them, it would also be great for us non-sufferers because we would have to take less precaution when serving food too! The good news is, this patch just finished human trials, successfully. So we may actually begin to see this on market within the next few years.