A potential treatment for peanut allergy has transformed the lives of children

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Posted by: Sue Atkins

When I was a class teacher I’ve had children in my class over the years, who suffered from a peanut allergy and I had to go on training in how to use an Epi- pen in case they went into  anaphylactic shock.

So I was delighted to hear today about a possible break through that may be a potential treatment for a peanut allergy as it has already  transformed the lives of children taking part in a large clinical trial.

The 85 children had to eat peanut protein every day – initially in small doses, but ramped up during the study.

The findings, published in the Lancet, suggest 84% of allergic children could eat the equivalent of five peanuts a day after six months.

Experts have warned that the therapy is not yet ready for widespread use.

Peanuts are the most common cause of fatal allergic reactions to food and because there was no treatment,  up until now, patients were told to avoid them completely, leading to a lifetime of checking every food label before a meal.

Building up

The trial, at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, tried to train the children’s immune systems to tolerate peanut protein.

Every day they were given a peanut protein powder – starting off on a dose equivalent to one 70th of a peanut.

The theory was that patients started at the extremely low dose, well below the threshold for an allergic response.

Once a fortnight the dose was increased while the children were in hospital, in case there was an reaction, and then they continued taking the higher dose at home.

The majority of patients learned to tolerate the peanut.

Lena Barden, 11, from Histon in Cambridgeshire, said: “It meant a trip to the hospital every two weeks.

“A year later I could eat five whole peanuts with no reaction at all.

“The trial has been an experience and adventure that has changed my life and I’ve had so much fun, but I still hate peanuts!”

‘Dramatic transformation’

One of the researchers, Dr Andrew Clark, told the BBC: “It really transformed their lives dramatically; this really comes across during the trial.

“It’s a potential treatment and the next step is to make it available to patients, but there will be significant costs in providing the treatment – in the specialist centres and staff and producing the peanut to a sufficiently high standard.”

Fellow researcher Dr Pamela Ewan added: “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.”

But she said further studies would be needed and that people should not try this on their own as this “should only be done by medical professionals in specialist settings”.

The research has been broadly welcomed by other researchers in the field, but some concerns about how any therapy could be introduced have been raised.

Caution

Prof Gideon Lack, who is running a peanut allergy trial at the Evelina Children’s Hospital in London, told the BBC: “This is a really important research step in trying to improve our management of peanut allergy, but is not yet ready for use in clinical practice.

“We need a proper risk assessment needs to be done to ensure we will not make life more dangerous for these children.

To read the full story click on  BBC News 

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