Children and teenagers allergic to peanuts that are fed increasing amounts of the potentially deadly allergen build up a tolerance to it, a new study found.
The ground-breaking research saw allergists build up people’s tolerance to peanuts by feeding them a small amount every day for over a year.
It is hoped it will protect them from accidentally being exposed to the allergen which can trigger a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis), which can be life threatening.
Currently, there are no approved treatment options for peanut allergy.
The NHS said the best way of preventing an allergic reaction is to identify the food that causes the allergy and avoid it.
Research is looking at ways to desensitise some food allergens, such as peanuts and milk, but this is not an established treatment yet.
If the new treatment is approved by the US regulator the Food and Drug Administration, it will be available on prescription in the States.
But they will have to remain on it to stay protected against accidental consumption because once they stop the treatment, there is no longer a protective effect.
The study involved participants with a peanut allergy aged four to 55 but most were in the four to 17 age bracket.
One third of the participants were given a placebo, while the remaining two-thirds were given peanut protein powder in increasing amounts until reaching the “maintenance dose” – the dose they stayed on for the remainder of the study.
The maintenance does was the equivalent of one peanut daily.
They were given the dose under the supervision of a board-certified allergist to test for a severe reaction.
By the end of the study, half of the group were able to tolerate ingesting four peanuts, and two thirds were able to tolerate eating two peanuts without suffering an allergic reaction.
And the majority – around 80 per cent – were able to tolerate one peanut.
Co-author Stephen Tilles, consulting advisor for Aimmune Therapeutics, said: “We’re excited about the potential to help children and adolescents with peanut allergy protect themselves against accidentally eating a food with peanut in it.
“Our hope when we started the study was that by treating patients with the equivalent of one peanut per day, many would tolerate as much as two peanuts.
“We were pleased to find that two thirds of the people in the study were able to tolerate the equivalent of two peanuts per day after nine to 12 months of treatment, and half the patients tolerated the equivalent of four peanuts.
“On average, the participants were able to tolerate a 100-fold higher dose of peanut at the end of the study than they did at the beginning.
“In addition, the symptoms caused by the 100-fold higher dose at the end of study were milder than the symptoms on the lower dose at the beginning of the study.”
Jay Lieberman, co-author and vice chair of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Food Allergy Committee, said: “This is not a quick fix, and it doesn’t mean people with peanut allergy will be able to eat peanuts whenever they want.
“But it is definitely a breakthrough.
“The hope would be to have a treatment available in the second half of 2019.
“If that happens, people who receive and are able to tolerate this treatment should be protected from accidental exposures.”
The study was presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting in Seattle and published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
By Adela Whittingham