This week a possible cure for sufferers of severe peanut allergies was presented to the international scientific community.
Talking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Diego, Dr Andrew Clark gave evidence suggesting that using ‘oral immunotherapy’ can build a person’s level of tolerance to peanuts significantly.
The initial study took place within the Cambridge University Hospital trust and used a trial group of 23 children. Dr Clark, a pediatric allergy consultant at Addenbrookes hospital, began by introducing very small doses of peanut flour into the children’s food. 21 of the children, after a year of gradually increasing amounts of flour, could eventually ingest ‘up to 32 peanuts’ without going into anaphylactic shock.
Dr Clark is an expert in all types of allergy and holds positions in several Cambridge hospitals dealing with effected children and their parents. He is also a passionate fundraiser and Councillor for the BSACI, the national parent allergy organization. Having delivered care for allergic pediatric patients in Addenbrookes since 2003, Dr Clark describes this most recent development as very “exciting”.
Secondary trials are being planned already, funded by the National Institute of Health Research. This branch of the National Health Service is planning a three year, £1 million trial with hundreds of children involved.
Dr Clark said “Our long-term aim is to keep them going with weekly dosing – equivalent to five peanuts … I think in two or three years’ time we will be in a position where we have a treatment that works; but we are still working on a long-term cure.
“Based on our successful pilot study, where we showed 21 out of 23 kids were effectively desensitized to peanuts … The families involved in this study say it has changed their lives. It’s dramatic. Before, they were checking every food label every time they ate food. They would worry it would cause a reaction, or even kill them, but now they can go out and eat curries and Chinese food and everyday snacks and treats”.
Despite the positive results of the study many people criticize the new findings. The online homoeopathy community claims this method of desensitizing patients is not new and has been used in homeopathy for over 200 years. One blogger went so far as to say “I hope Dr Clark is going to correctly attribute his methodology, instead of thinking he has invented a new one”.
Others argue that the planned secondary study is a massive waste of NHS resources, as these homeopathic remedies are already freely available on the National Health.