Thousands of people suffering from peanut allergies could be saved from potentially fatal allergic reactions thanks to a revolutionary new therapy.
Medical researchers at the NHS Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge have proved that, by giving sufferers tiny amounts of peanut in steadily increasing doses, the body's tolerance can be vastly improved.
Out of 99 children who were given the new form of immunotherapy, 84pc of one group and 91pc of a second group could safely eat five peanuts a day after six months – 25 times what they would normally be able to tolerate and more than they would be likely to encounter in most foods.
The finding, published in 'The Lancet' medical journal today and described as "a major step forward" by allergy charities, has the potential to transform the lives of thousands of sufferers.
Peanut allergy affects around 500,000 people in the UK and more than 10 million globally. It is the most common cause of fatal food allergy reactions and unlike many other child food allergies, usually persists into adulthood.
Patients risk anaphylactic shock or even death if they are accidentally exposed to peanut traces.
Dr Andrew Clark, who led the Cambridge research team along with Dr Pam Ewan, said that the lives of families involved in the study had been changed "dramatically".
Further investigation in larger trial groups and regulatory approval will be required before the therapy could be widely available, a process that may take several years.
But Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is planning to open a peanut allergy clinic where the therapy could be licensed on a patient-by-patient basis.
However, experts warned against any "at home" attempts to improve peanut tolerance.
Maureen Jenkins, director of clinical services at the charity Allergy UK, said that the "fantastic" results of the trial had exceeded expectations. (© Independent News Service)