Breakthrough in peanut allergy treatment

Could a peanut allergy treatment soon be a reality?
Could a peanut allergy treatment soon be a reality? Photo: Shutterstock

Peanut allergy sufferers may soon be able to protect themselves from having a severe reaction to peanuts, after a recent breakthrough study.

Researchers have found that daily ingesting of peanut protein powder could be the answer to preventing life threatening allergic reactions.

The news would be a welcome relief to the millions of children living with a peanut allergy around the world.

The study, conducted by California-based biotechnology company Aimmune Therapeutics, collected data from 500 children over the period of one year.

The participants, aged from four to 17, had severe peanut allergies, reacting to as little as one tenth of a peanut.

Children were divided into two groups – one group was given capsules filled with "dummy" powder and the other peanut protein. The capsules were filled with the powder that was then sprinkled onto food, before being consumed.

Over a period of six months, participants received a gradually increasing amount of peanut powder from 1/100th of a peanut to the amount of peanut protein equaling approximately one peanut. They were then given the higher level of peanut protein for another six months.

The results were encouraging with more than two-thirds of the kids given the peanut protein capsules able to tolerate the equivalent of about two peanuts, compared to just four per cent of kids given the placebo powder.

Lead author of the study Dr Stacie Jones, a University of Arkansas allergy specialist, said 20 per cent of the kids who received the peanut powder dropped out of the study. And of those, 12 per cent did so because they had reactions or other problems.

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She warned parents not to replicate the study at home.

"It's potentially dangerous," Dr Jones said.

"This is investigational. It has to be done in a very safe setting to make sure kids can be treated fast for any bad reactions that occur."

The results of the study have not yet been reviewed by independent experts.

The company behind the study is planning to seek US Food and Drug Administration approval for the treatment later in the year and in Europe early next year. Treatment is expected to cost up to $10,000 for the first six months and between $300 and $400 per month after that.

The treatment would not mean allergy sufferers could eat peanuts, but would help protect 95 per cent them against severe reactions, the study claimed.

According to Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia, almost three in every 100 children in Australia have a peanut allergy. Although about 20 per cent of those will grow out of their allergy.

It is not known if, or when, the treatment would be available in Australia.