Allergies to common food stuffs, that elicit severe reaction can be life threatening and are a serious problem. This story presented some very preliminary results that suggest a means of making these situations more manageable for the affected individual.
The story, while generally fairly complete in its description of the research, was a bit imbalanced in its assessment of the effectiveness and applicability of the treatment described. Letting the lead researcher get away with saying that there would be a treatment for kids with food allergy in 5 years is complete conjecture and may offer false hope for a timetable. From the results available at this time, it is not clear whether this treatment will be beneficial to individuals older than pre-school, whether its effectiveness might diminish over time or whether there are some undesireable side effects that might accompany this treatment.
The story did provide ample caveats about the small, pilot nature of the studies and the fact that larger, randomized studies were needed to improve the evidence. But including the prediction from the lead researcher and the quote from the parent of a child in the study – "Our whole worry level is really gone." – introduces an imbalance that is not backed up by evidence at this time. This is very preliminary research, done in small numbers of children. That should be an important take-home message for consumers.
There was no estimate for the costs of such treatment.
The benefits of the treatment were defined as increasing the number of peanuts, for example, that a treated individual might be able to consume without difficulty. The more difficult to quantify benefit of enabling a child, allergic to common foods, to withstand exposure to those problematic foods without need of epinephrine treatment was also presented.
The story did include a quote from an expert at the National Institutes of Health who commented that "you don't go into this kind of a study lightly" because of the risks; however the nature of the risks was not defined.
The story mentioned that it was not clear how long lasting the induced tolerance might be if the children were to stop receiving their small exposure. Actually, even if they continue to receive the regular exposure, there is no data to inform us on whether the tolerance will last.
There was no discussion of whether there were any specific harms observed with the treatment.
The story discussed results from two small pilot studies – one published, one unpublished. It included an important caveat about the unpublished study. It emphasized that the next step would be a randomized study, "seeking better evidence for the treatment." Perhaps there could have been stronger caveats about intepreting results from the second study pilot study because the work has not yet been peer reviewed or published. But we'll give the story the benefit of the doubt on this criterion.
This story did not engage in overt disease mongering.
The story included comments from a scientist at the National Institutes of Health who is tracking the studies discussed. It also included quotes from a parent of an allergic child and one scientist involved in the research.
The story mentioned the use of an epi-pen in passing as well as establishing "peanut free zones."
Readers are cautioned not to try this treatment on their own and explains that the children in the study are closely monitored. The story also explained that results come from two pilot studies on very small numbers of children. It did let the lead researcher get away with predicting a treatment within five years. But we'll give the story the benefit of the doubt on this criterion.
The story described a type of treatment that has been used with other allergens previously but not with allergies resulting in anaphylaxis and so is a novel approach to the management of such allergies.
Does not appear to rely on a press release.