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Cure for peanut allergies being developed in Toronto

A cure would change the way Paul, Phoebe and their family live their lives.

From left: the Kaiser family -- Paul, 14, Harrison, 9 and Phoebe, 11 -- sit in their Toronto kitchen. Phoebe and Paul are severely allergic to peanuts.

Liz Beddall/Metro

From left: the Kaiser family -- Paul, 14, Harrison, 9 and Phoebe, 11 -- sit in their Toronto kitchen. Phoebe and Paul are severely allergic to peanuts.

Families with severe allergies get used to a certain way of life. There’s a litany of questions to ask at every restaurant and a constant level of anxiety about what the next bite might bring.

But research underway at SickKids Hospital in Toronto has the potential to cure allergies—and upend the routine of questions and concern, says Dr. Amy Kaiser, a SickKids Foundation board member and the mother of two kids with severe peanut allergies.

“You kind of have to self-advocate for yourself a lot,” said her 11-year-old daughter, Phoebe. “Because you have to look out for yourself.”

Paul, 14, still goes out for food with friends, but there are times when he doesn’t get to eat.

There are also extra precautions to take when travelling. Some airlines will prohibit peanuts in the rows surrounding their seats, or even make the whole plane peanut-free if they call ahead.

But all that could change, in time.  

Researchers at SickKids believe a cure is possible. Their work has recently attracted $100,000 sponsorship from a company with a stake in the allergy problem: Kraft Peanut Butter.

The centerpiece of their work involves research into the platelet-activating factor (PAF) by Dr. Eyal Grunebaum and Dr. Peter Vadas.

By studying PAF’s role in anaphylactic shock, SickKids researchers may be able to prevent fatal allergic reactions from occurring, said Grant Stirling, the hospital’s chief development officer.

“If our promising research bears fruit, within the next ten years, as a woman may take a birth control pill or someone may take Aspirin as prevention from a heart attack, someone with a severe allergy can take a pill once a day,” Stirling said.

“They may still be allergic to something, but they will not have an anaphylactic reaction and they will not die.”

For the Kaiser family, a cure for allergies would change their lives.

“If there were not peanut allergies, or food allergens, I think carefree family gatherings would be possible,” Kaiser said.

“I’d be like any other kid,” said Paul.

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