Successful scientific study: potential cure for peanut allergies

Alice Taylor 6 February 2014

A new therapy for peanut allergy has been successful in the majority of the 99 children who participated in a clinical trial at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. 

Children aged seven to sixteen consumed peanut protein in escalating amounts under medical supervision for four to six months. The results showed that 84% to 91% of the children treated with oral immunotherapy could safely consume 800mg of peanut protein per day, the equivalent of five peanuts. This was at least 25 times as much as they could eat before therapy. 

The trial, led by the Cambridge allergy research team, was the largest of its kind worldwide, and the results raise fresh hopes for a cure for the allergy.

Director of Clinical Services at Allergy UK, Maureen Jenkins, told The Cambridge Student that “[t]he fantastic results of this study exceed expectation. Peanut allergy is a particularly frightening food allergy, causing constant anxiety of a reaction from peanut traces. This is a major step forward in the global quest to manage it.”

Peanut allergies affect 10 million people globally, and it is the most common cause of fatal food allergy reactions. Between 0.5% and 1.4% of children in affluent countries are said to suffer from peanut allergy, with this number increasing. 

Those who responded positively to the oral immunotherapy in the trial were able to safely consume more than the amount of peanut protein found in ‘contaminated’ food, eliminating concerns about food preparation, food labels and even eating in restaurants. 

Magdalene student Jack Brewster, who has had a peanut allergy for sixteen years, told TCS that the outcome of the trial is “a good and important step forward”.

However, he doubted whether many sufferers will be able to have a “carefree” attitude to food as they often have allergies to other nuts.

Dr Andrew Clark from the University’s Department of Medicine and one of the leaders of the study, said: “This treatment allowed children with all severities of peanut allergy to eat large quantities of peanuts… freeing them and their parents from the fear of a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. The families involved in this study say that it has changed their lives dramatically.”

Although the results of the trial are promising, it is not yet clear whether the effects of the treatment will be long lasting. Nonetheless, Addenbrooke’s is planning to make immunotherapy available on a named patient basis.