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Could building up immunity be the key to fighting peanut allergy?

An academic trial which treated allergic children with peanut protein over the course of six months yielded some positive results.

SAFELY TREATING CHILDREN allergic to peanuts with peanut protein could build up their immunity to a point where they are safe from contaminated snacks and meals.

New research published in The Lancet journal has shown that almost 90 per cent of children who underwent a new trial could tolerate at least 25 times as much peanut protein as they could before the therapy.

Peanut allergy is the most common cause of severe and life-threatening allergic reactions related to food and the trial at Cambridge University Hospitals aimed to find a way to prevent these severe reactions.

Currently the only way to do so is to avoid foods that contain peanuts and accidental reactions are common in this method.

“This treatment allowed children with all severities of peanut allergy to eat large quantities of peanuts, well above the levels found in contaminated snacks and meals,” according to lead researcher Dr Andrew Clark.

“This frees children them and their parents from the fear of a potentially life threatening allergic reaction. The families involved in this study say that it has changed their lives dramatically.”

As part of the trial, 99 children aged 7 to 16 years with varying severities of peanut allergy either received 6 months of oral immunotherapy using gradually increasing doses of peanut protein or received no treatment at all and avoided peanuts as per usual.

Both the children treated and the control group then took part in a supervised blind food challenge during which they consumed increasing amounts of peanut protein until they experienced allergic symptoms.

Results

After 6 months of therapy, 62 per cent of the children who received the oral immunotherapy passed the challenge and tolerated a daily dose of 1400 mg of peanut protein, roughly equivalent to 10 peanuts. None of the control group were able to tolerate that dose.

Researchers say that a daily dose of 10 peanuts is unlikely to be encountered accidentally.

A fifth of those who undertook the treatment reported side affects during the treatment with oral itching being the most common. One patient withdrew from the trial due to the adverse affects.

While describing the results as promising , Matthew J. Greenhawt from the University of Michigan Food Allergy Center said that the experiment is years away from clinical use:

OIT is not ready for clinical use until the short-term effects have been comprehensively proven, and the long-term side-effects, mechanism of action, and outcomes are known.

“It is unknown if OIT produce lasting tolerance, a key outcome,” he added.

Read: Appeal for Irish to take part in global food allergy study >

Read: Babies born by Caesarian more susceptible to developing allergies >

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About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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