The Khattis could either resign themselves to continuing rigid avoidance of any and every thing that contained traces of peanuts, hoping that Rohan never had an incidental encounter. Or they could follow the advice of Rohan’s allergist to go to Children’s Medical Center to see J. Andrew Bird, M.D.
“Rohan’s allergist said, ‘Dr. Bird and his team are doing some significant clinical studies with peanut allergies, and I think Rohan would be a good candidate,” Rohan’s father, a radiologist named Dr. Sanjay Khatti, said.
They chose to go see Dr. Bird.
Under the leadership of Dr. Bird, the Food Allergy Center at Children’s is one of a few programs in the country that conducts pediatric food allergy research. Dr. Bird, also an assistant professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center, and his team have access to premier research resources through the affiliation of Children’s with UT Southwestern.
One research project the center is currently participating in is the Viaskin® Peanut (VIPES) study, which is the first global clinical trial in desensitization of peanut-allergic children and adults. The Food Allergy Center is the only program south of Ohio and east of California involved.
Dr. Bird is one of an elite group of food allergy specialists designated as principal investigators in the trial. When Rohan and his parents met him, they were convinced that if Rohan was to make any progress with his peanut allergy, it would be through Dr. Bird.
“He was excellent,” Rohan’s mother, Sonali, said. “We could tell that he and the whole office genuinely cared about their patients.”
Rohan ended up being selected as one of approximately 200 peanut-allergic patients in the world to participate in the VIPES study.
“The way the trial works is that each participant initially goes through a blinded food challenge,” Dr. Bird said. “Patients are scheduled to come in for two days of challenges. On one day, they’ll be exposed to placebo challenges, and on the other day, they’ll be exposed to peanut challenges.”
Rohan successfully made it through his food challenge in March. Ever since, he has worn a Viaskin® peanut patch – initially for a few hours a day and now every hour. The patch contains small amounts of peanut protein that are exposed to his skin. The goal is that the daily exposure to the allergen, which increases over time, will eventually lead to Rohan becoming desensitized to peanuts.
“We don’t know if the peanut patch will lead to peanut-allergic children becoming completely tolerant to peanuts, even though there’s always that hope,” Dr. Bird said. “But I think a child being able to develop enough of a tolerance to accidentally encounter peanuts without reaction would be considered effective. And it would certainly be an improvement over the only approved treatment we have now, which is avoidance.”
Rohan, now 10, will go through another food challenge next March to evaluate how much difference the peanut patch has made. Maybe then he will be able to accomplish two of his goals – to help others and to expand his diet to include more sweets.
“I hope that I’ll be able to help other people with peanut allergies by this trial resulting in a cure or better treatment,” Rohan said. “And I’ll hopefully finally be able to eat things with peanuts, things I’ve always wanted to try like a Snickers®.”