Australian researchers have made a breakthrough in the treatment of the deadly peanut allergy in children.
A small clinical trial conducted at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute has seen two-thirds of children treated with an experimental immunotherapy treatment cured of their allergy.
Importantly, this desensitisation to peanut persisted for up to four years after treatment.
"These children had been eating peanut freely in their diet without having to follow any particular program of peanut intake in the years after treatment was completed," said trial lead Mimi Tang.
A small clinical trial has seen two-thirds of children treated with immunotherapy treatment cured of their allergy. Photo: iStock
Peanut allergy is the most common cause of anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction, and one of the most common causes of death from food allergy.
To combat this, immunologist and allergist Professor Tang pioneered a new form of treatment that combines a probiotic with peanut oral immunotherapy, known as PPOIT.
Instead of avoiding the allergen, the treatment is designed to reprogram the immune system's response to peanut and eventually develop a tolerance.
It's thought combining the probiotic with the immunotherapy gives the immune system the "nudge" it needs to do this, Professor Tang said.
A total of 48 children were enrolled in the PPOIT trial and were randomly given either a combination of the probiotic, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, together with peanut protein in increasing amounts, or a placebo, once daily for 18 months.
At the end of the original trial in 2013, 82 per cent of children who received the probiotic and peanut oral immunotherapy treatment were deemed tolerant to peanuts compared with just four per cent in the placebo group.
Four years later, the majority of the children who gained initial tolerance were still eating peanut as part of their normal diet, and 70 per cent passed a further challenge test to confirm long-term tolerance to peanut.
Professor Tang said the results were very exciting and have been life-changing for the participants.
"The way I see it is that 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 with that and 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," said Professor Tang.
The results are published in The Lancet, Child and Adolescent Health.
If confirmed by larger clinical studies, the broader hope is that this treatment can have an impact on the high rates of food allergy among children in Australia.
"This is a major step forward in identifying an effective treatment to address the food allergy problem in Western societies," Prof Tang said.