CHILDREN are to be given a little of what does them harm in the biggest trial of immunotherapy for peanut allergy conducted.
The £1 million (€1.13) British study follows earlier research indicating that peanut allergy can be overcome — with peanuts.
Gradually building up tolerance with small amounts of peanut protein appears to dampen down the potentially dangerous allergic reaction.
Now the idea is to be tested for the first time on a large scale with 104 British children aged seven to 17 suffering from peanut allergy.
Their “medicine” will be increasing doses of peanut flour added to yoghurt.
Tiny quantities of peanut, starting at about one milligram, will be built up slowly until the children are eating the equivalent of five nuts a day.
Some of the children are severely allergic and would normally be at risk of life-threatening symptoms from such exposure.
Dr Andrew Clark, from Cambridge University, who is leading the study, said: “This is going to be the largest trial of its kind in the world and it should give us a definitive idea of whether the approach works and whether it’s safe.
“It’s based on our successful pilot study where we showed 21 out of 23 kids were effectively desensitised to peanuts.”
Nut allergy is the most common cause of anaphylaxis among younger age groups, placing about one in 50 children at risk.
Dr Clark’s pilot trial recruited 23 children shown to suffer an allergic reaction to the equivalent of less than one peanut.
They were started off on one milligram of peanut each day, increasing the amount every two weeks until they could tolerate five nuts, or 800 milligrams.
This amount was then taken daily as a maintenance treatment for at least six weeks.
Most of the children responded well, despite developing short-term mouth itching or stomach pains when doses were increased.
All but two children were able to eat at least five peanuts a day with no ill effects, said Dr Clark.
Doctors warned that no one should be attempted to “have a go” at peanut therapy without supervision and it requires “intensive clinical input and must not be tried at home outside the research setting”.
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