May 28, 2024


Children could enjoy foods that would previously have caused potentially life-threatening allergic reactions after taking part in a “life-transforming” NHS clinical trial, doctors have reported.

A ground-breaking £2.5m study is using daily doses of everyday food products, taken under strict medical supervision, rather than drugs to train the bodies of children as young as two to tolerate an allergen.

The approach – known as oral immunotherapy (OIT) – means children living with food allergies may no longer have a reaction if they accidentally eat something containing the allergen.

“We have to wait until the trial is completed for the full picture, but we are very pleased with the results we are seeing so far,” said the study’s lead researcher, Hasan Arshad, a professor of allergy and clinical immunology at the University of Southampton said.

A total of 139 children and young people between the ages of two and 23 with a food allergy to peanuts or cow’s milk started treatment in the trial.

It is funded by The Natasha Allergy Research Foundation, which was set up by the parents of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse. She died in 2016 at the age of 15 after experiencing a severe allergic reaction to sesame baked into a Pret a Manger baguette.

Sibel Sonmez-Ajtai, a pediatric allergy consultant at Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, said: “This study allows us to do something we could never do before – give patients the food we know that they are allergic.

“This treatment is not a cure for a food allergy, but what it achieves is life-transforming. To have a patient who had anaphylaxis to 4ml of milk to then tolerate 90ml within six to eight months is nothing short of a miracle.”

Thomas Farmer, 11, who was diagnosed with a severe peanut allergy when he was one, can now eat six peanuts a day after joining the trial in Southampton.

“Hopefully it will also mean he’ll be able to eat a wider variety of foods as we won’t be as concerned about accidental exposure,” said his mother, Lauren. “For Thomas to be able to achieve all this with no medicine, just off the shelf food, is amazing.”

Grace Fisher, five, who has a milk allergy and joined the trial in Newcastle, now drinks 120ml of milk a day. Her mother, Emma, ​​said: “Grace is over six months into this journey and is doing amazing. She is currently on 120ml of milk and loves her daily hot chocolate.”

The trial is being conducted in Southampton, London, Leicester, Newcastle and Sheffield. It will also be rolled out in Scotland, with plans for Bristol and Leeds to join.

Final results are expected in 2027. If successful, it could provide more evidence for the treatment of everyday foods being made available on the NHS.

“If Natasha were alive today, this is exactly the type of research she would have loved to be a part of,” said Natasha’s mother, Tanya Ednan-Laperouse. “We are so pleased that some children with peanut and milk allergies are already seeing the benefits of using everyday foods under medical supervision to treat their allergic disease.”

Arshad said the trial tried to change people’s lives for the better. He added: “Our ultimate goal is a life without the risk of allergic reactions – reactions that can be serious and life-threatening for some.”



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