Cure for peanut allergy imminent thanks to Australian scientists

By Cheryl Tay

- Last updated on GMT

The treatment successfully cured children who had a peanut allergy. ©iStock
The treatment successfully cured children who had a peanut allergy. ©iStock

Related tags Allergy Immune system

A treatment that offers a long-term cure for children with a fatal peanut allergy could soon be commercially available, thanks to scientists in Melbourne.

A clinical trial involving an experimental peanut-probiotic treatment was conducted at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne in 2013, curing 82% of its participants of their peanut allergy.

Today, 80% of those children can still eat peanuts without any complications.

Trial and treatment

During the clinical trial, lead researcher Professor Mimi Tang and her team administered the treatment to 28 allergic children.

Over the next year and a half, they were given progressively higher doses of peanut flour, which helped to strengthen their tolerance.

After the trial was over, 82% of them could include peanuts in their regular diet. A follow-up study was conducted four years later, and 80% of the cured children still had no allergic reaction to eating peanuts.

Tang told Australian media: "These findings suggest our treatment is effective at inducing long-term tolerance — up to four years after completing treatment — and is safe.

"It also suggests the exciting possibility that tolerance is a realistic target for treating food allergy. This is a major step forward in identifying an effective treatment to address the food allergy problem in Western societies."

How it works

The treatment contains a bit of peanut flour and a very high dose of the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus​, which is typically present in small amounts in yogurt. It is known to modulate the immune system by calming its response to its usual triggers, alleviating severe allergic reactions.

The mixture of the peanut flour and the probiotic works to gradually train the immune system to tolerate increasing amounts of peanut flour.

According to Tang, "Probiotics are very potent immune-modulating agents to shift the way the immune system responds. This particular probiotic has been shown in other situations to support tolerance-like responses. It creates an environment for the immune system to respond differently.”

A life-changing experience

Tang said, "These children have been eating peanut freely in their diet without having to follow any particular programme of peanut intake in the years after treatment was completed. This changes sufferers’ lives. Our feedback is these kids are now going to parties without worry."

She added that she hoped a product based on the treatment could be sold commercially within the next five years.

The Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne will collaborate with a venture capital firm to commercialise the treatment, which will entail peanut allergy sufferers consuming daily doses of powder over the course of 18 months.

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