Rip open the peanut M&Ms and break out the peanut butter! Why? Because a team of Aussie scientists say they’re close to curing peanut allergies – for good!
Yes, the food allergy that strikes fear and dread into the hearts of thousands of parents may soon be no more. And it’s thanks to a team from Melbourne’s Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.
Up to three in every 100 Aussie kids are allergic to peanuts, with peanut allergy one of the most common causes of death from food-related anaphylaxis. You really haven’t experienced fear till you’re the parent of a child with a peanut allergy who accidentally comes into contact with a sandwich smeared in the butter form.
Now, news out of Melbourne is that a cure might actually be possible. Immunologist Professor Mimi Tang developed a new form of treatment in 2013 that combines a gradual introduction of the problem food – peanuts – with high-dose probiotics.
Have your peanuts … and eat them too
Results show that children who developed a tolerance to peanuts during the experimental trial four years ago can still eat peanuts without having an allergic reaction.
“We had children who came into the study allergic to peanuts, having to avoid peanuts in their diet, being very vigilant around that, carrying a lot of anxiety,” Prof Tang tells News Corp.
“At the end of treatment, and even four years later, many of these children who had benefited from our probiotic peanut therapy could now live like a child who didn’t have peanut allergy.”
The treatment – Probiotic and Peanut Oral Immunotherapy (PPOI) – reprograms the immune system response to peanuts to develop longer term tolerance to allergens. It’s thought that combining high-dose probiotics with immunotherapy gives the immune system the “nudge” it needs to kick the allergy to the kerb.
Of the 48 children enrolled in the PPOIT trial, one group was given the probiotic, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, together with peanut protein in increasing amounts. The other received a placebo. All kids were treated once a day for 18 months.
The results are pretty darn amazing. At the end of the first stage of trial, 82 per cent of the children in the probiotic group were deemed tolerant to peanuts. This is in direct contrast to the placebo group where four per cent had developed tolerance. And the results don’t end there.
Four years later, 80 per cent of those kids who gained tolerance to peanuts are still eating them as part of their normal diet. “Our findings are really exciting because they suggest a cure is a realistic target for us in treating food allergies,” Prof Tang said.
The end of food allergies
The findings are an exciting step forward in treating food allergies in a sustainable way. “These findings suggest our treatment is effective at inducing long-term tolerance,” said Professor Tang.
The next step is the development of an FDA approved product for people with peanut allergies.
News of the possible peanut allergy cure is the second major scientific breakthrough this month for parents. Australian scientists also discovered that high levels of niacine in foods like Vegemite may prevent miscarriage and birth defects.