Peanut allergy could soon be a thing of the past

We reported the first very positive results of the trials of peanut immunotherapy at Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge previously and, four months later, 20 children aged between 5 and 17 years old with severe peanut allergies are able to tolerate 12 peanuts a day without any adverse effects. The Addenbrookes team are planning larger trials of the treatment to test its effectiveness.

They are also hoping to develop the therapy so that it can be used to treat other dangerous allergies to foods such as milk, eggs and gluten and they believe the treatment could become a routine way of combating allergies.

Dr Pamela Ewan, a senior consultant at the department of allergy and medicine at Addenbrooke's Hospital who led the research, used tiny doses of peanut flour which were given to the children every day to gradually desensitise their immune systems. The researchers discovered that if they began by giving children doses of peanut flour that were lower than the minimum amount required to trigger an allergic reaction, they could gradually increase the dose every two weeks until the youngsters could eat the equivalent of six peanuts a day.

After the four-month treatment, the children needed to continue taking peanuts every day to ensure their immune system remained desensitised. The children will be monitored for the next three or four years to check their tolerance levels and other research will examine whether peanut flour can be given as a tablet.

Dr Ewan says essentially the immune system is retrained by presenting it with a very low dose to begin with and gradually increasing it but she warns against attempting the treatment outside of a hospital research study facility because it would not be safe.

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First published in October 2009

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