Researchers have successfully treated four individuals with peanut allergies using an approach called oral immuno-therapy.
Writing in the journal Allergy, lead author Dr Andy Clark, who is based at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, explains how he and his team recruited four boys aged between nine and thirteen with established allergic reactions to peanuts. Blood tests on the children confirmed the presence of ciculating peanut antibodies, and injecting small amounts of peanut protein into the skin provoked signs of inflammation, proving that the boys were reacting to the nuts.
The children were then given daily doses of peanut flour containg the nut protein to eat every day. The starting doses were very small at just 5mg per day but this was doubled every two weeks until the participants were eating 800mg per day, equivalent to about four peanuts.
After a further six weeks at this top dose the volunteers were then "challenged" with twelve whole peanuts, which they were all able to consume without ill effects. During the study the volunteers were equipped with antihistamines and adrenaline syringes in case of anaphylaxis, but apart from mild reactions the process was well tolerated by the subjects who have now been prescribed a daily peanut ration of five nuts per day to ensure their new-found "tolerance" for the food is maintained.
Both the patients and the researchers are delighted with the results but they do caution that it's a small trial and not something that should be undertaken outside of a properly monitored medical setting.
"Don't try this at home," says Clark.