Doctors at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, have successfully trained children’s immune systems to tolerate the most common allergy in the world, peanut allergy. 90% of all allergic reactions are from milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish and the breakthrough could stem an important development in understanding and treating a host of well-known allergies.
Around one in 100 children have peanut allergies, which can cause a lifetime of careful eating habits, checking food labels and restaurant menus. With the latest study into allergy however all children could be given the joy of discussing which is better, smooth or crunchy peanut butter? Currently the only method of allergy prevention is to avoid certain foods, what if all this could change?
The study, published by Lancet, attempted to change the immune system of 85 children in order to tolerate peanut protein. Starting with a dose of peanut protein that was well below the threshold of allergic response (0.7 of a single peanut) the participants were given a gradual increase in protein powder every fortnight. By the end of the study the average participant was able to tolerate an increase of more than 25 times the original amount they could eat before having a reaction.
The results suggest that 84% of allergic children could eat the equivalent of five peanuts a day after six months. The concept of gradually introducing allergic substances is known as ‘immunotherapy’ and has been around for many years, although previous attempts to treat peanut allergy with injections have all been unsuccessful. The new approach is very promising and is likely to lead to further investigation in oral immunotherapy for peanut and other food allergies.
Researchers say the study shows that peanut immunotherapy is effective and has few concerning side effects in children aged seven to16 years old. Co-author, Dr Pamela Ewan said, “This large study is the first of its kind in the world to have had such a positive outcome, and is an important advance in peanut allergy research. However, further studies in wider populations are needed. It is important to note that OIT is not a treatment people should try on their own and should only be done by medical professionals in specialist settings.”
Many other allergy specialists were quick to welcome the news of the successful therapy, “It’s huge, absolutely huge, this is the first evidence of treating an allergy. We still need studies to see what happens if treatment finishes totally.” Said Maureen Jenkins, director of clinical services at allergy UK.
The study may sound simple and easy to replicate however scientists have added a ‘leave it to the professionals’ message as the trials were under the controlled environment of a hospital, with two patients needing adrenaline shots over the course of study. The team is however hoping to obtain a product license for the regime and a network of specialised units around the UK, potentially in collaboration with the pharmaceutical industry.
The advancement of our understanding with peanut allergies is at its highest rate in scientific history and this study could lead to cures, treatments or prevention methods for peanut and other allergies. The findings could make huge changes in the lifestyles of many as 11-year-old Lena Barden reveals: “The study meant a trip to the hospital every two weeks. A year later I could eat five whole peanuts without a reaction at all. The trial has been an experience and adventure that has changed my life and I’ve had so much fun.”
How would a treatment for allergies improve your life?