The study suggests this immunotherapy treatment – already used to treat pollen and bee sting allergies – could protect people from life-threatening reactions. It is believed that by gradually building up tolerance levels, allergy sufferers could protect themselves from accidental exposure.
Researchers from Evelina London Children’s Hospital and King’s College London took part in the study, which recruited nearly 500 children aged four to 17 from the US and Europe to take part in the largest-ever peanut allergy treatment trial.
Participants were split into groups who received either a capsule of peanut protein or a dummy powder. Doses were gradually increased every two weeks for a period of six months, before a “maintenance dose” of peanut was given for a further six months.
The results, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found about two-thirds (67 per cent) of children and teenagers could tolerate at least 600mg of peanut protein, compared with just 4 per cent of participants on the dummy placebo.
Professor George du Toit, paediatric allergy consultant at Evelina London and the study’s chief investigator, said: “Peanut allergy is extremely difficult to manage for children and their families, as they have to follow a strict peanut-free diet. Families live in fear of accidental exposure as allergic reactions can be very severe, and can even lead to death.
“Until recently there has been nothing to offer peanut allergy suffers other than education around peanut avoidance and recognition and self-treatment of allergic reactions.”
Sophie Pratt, 44, from Kentish Town in north London, enrolled her six-year-old daughter Emily, who has had a peanut allergy since she was one, on the study.
“The study has completely changed our lives,” she said. “Before Emily took part we were uncomfortable being more than 20 minutes away from a hospital and she wasn’t able to attend play dates or parties without me or my husband being there.
“We had to constantly study food labels to ensure peanuts were completely eliminated from Emily’s diet. Her allergy was very severe so even a small amount of peanut could lead to a very serious reaction. The impact on our family life was huge.”
Pratt said by the end of the year-long trial Emily was able to tolerate around seven peanuts.
The study was funded by Aimmune Therapeutics, which manufactures the peanut protein used during the trial.