The possible breakthrough comes after a clinical trial at Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge proved successful in enabling most children with peanut allergy to eat the nut without suffering a dangerous reaction.
In the trial, which involved 99 children aged between seven and sixteen split into two groups, participants were given daily doses of peanut protein.
Children were initially given a tiny dose of peanut protein, with the dose gradually built-up over a period of four to six months.
By the end of the six months, 84 per cent of one group and 91 per cent of the other could eat at least five peanuts a day.
According to the researchers, peanut allergy affects one in 50 children and is the most common cause of ‘fatal’ food allergy reactions. People with peanut allergy risk anaphylactic shock or even death if they are accidentally exposed to peanuts.
Unlike other childhood food allergies, such as cow’s milk, peanut allergy rarely goes away.
Dr Andrew Clark, who led the clinical trial, said, ‘Before treatment children and their parents would check every food label and avoid eating out in restaurants. Now most of the children involved in the trial can safely eat at least five whole peanuts. The families say it has changed their lives dramatically.’
The researchers went on to say that this study is the first in the world to have had such a good outcome.
Commenting on the findings of the trial, Lynne Regent, chief executive of the Anaphylaxis Campaign, said, ‘We welcome the positive results of this important study. Such a good outcome for so many of the children who took part demonstrates the importance of oral desensitisation treatment in transforming the lives of those with food allergy. We look forward to seeing further development in this area.’
The allergy team at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, part of Cambridge University Hospitals (CUH), say the next step is to make peanut immunotherapy widely available to patients. CUH is also planning to open a peanut allergy clinic where immunotherapy would be available.