'Eoghan's tolerance is continuing to improve' - new trial for sufferers of peanut allergy
Irish children at the frontline of investigation which led to treatment for life-threatening allergies
Clodagh O Donovan spent years living in fear that her son Eoghan would accidentally eat a peanut hidden in a slice of a home-made cake or brownie and develop a life-threatening reaction.
Eoghan (12) Farmer’s Cross, Cork first showed signs of his allergy to peanuts as a toddler when his face and eyes swelled up.
"He only licked the small piece of peanut butter but had a serious reaction," said Clodagh.
He had been born at twenty six weeks and the peanut butter was recommended as a means of building up his weight.
"After the severe swelling he was diagnosed with a peanut allergy."
It meant most of his young years were spent in a state of vigilance to avoid peanuts, checking ingredients in shop bought foods and not being able to eat birthday cake at Montessori school parties.
"I would be contacted by the school and told a child was having a birthday cake.Eoghan would be given a packet of jellies instead."
There was a constant need to have an antihistamine or the EpiPen antidote at the ready in case of an attack.
The medically supervised trial at Cork University Hospital offered Eoghan the chance of living a life free from the threat of his allergy.
It involved giving the child small doses of peanut flour and gradually increasing it to boost tolerance over time.
Eoghan received his first controlled dose which his mother put into his yogurt.
"We went back to the clinic every two weeks and the dose was slowly increased."
Eoghan started in August 2016 and reached a 300mg dose of peanut flour in January 2017.
He stayed on that dose for six months and then entered another phase where he was daily dosing for a month.
After that he took the flour every second day and started taking it twice a week at the end of September 2017.
"When we entered the trial he had a reaction to the equivalent of half a peanut. But at the end of the study he had no reaction to seven to nine peanuts.
"Eoghan’s tolerance is continuing to improve.
"It is phenomenal what has happened and it gives us such peace of mind," she added.
Irish children are at the frontline of a worldwide investigation which has led to a treatment for life-threatening allergies to peanuts.
A new study published today involving 30 Irish children reveals that giving them controlled doses of a form of peanut flour over time can build up their tolerance to the food that might otherwise trigger a fatal reaction.
The Irish trial has been led by Cork’s INFANT Centre under Jonathan Hourihane, Prof of Paediatrics and Child Health at University College Cork and the INFANT Centre.
The revolutionary immunotherapy trial in Ireland has shown that more than two thirds of those on the treatment could tolerate peanuts after the trial.
He said: "Up to now, without any treatment available, peanut allergy has put children and adults at risk of unpredictable and occasionally life-threatening reactions.
"The AR101 immunotherapy is a real breakthrough for those affected by peanut allergy. It works by introducing initially minute controlled amounts of peanut protein, with escalation over a sustained period of 6 to 12 months, building up a patient’s tolerance to peanut.
"We have seen patients go from being highly allergic to very small doses, like one tenth of a peanut, to being able to manage to eat the equivalent of 2 or 3 peanuts without a significant reaction. This is a game changer for anyone living with this allergy."
The findings published in the New England Journal of Medicine followed the medically supervised trial where the children are given the new peanut-derived, oral biologic drug at different doses over time to build up their tolerance.
Children who were treated but still had a negative response to peanut when tested at the end of the study had much milder reactions.
Parents are able to mix it dose in foods such as yogurt.
INFANT Director Geraldine Boylan said, "This is an example of the excellent, world leading clinical research ongoing at the INFANT centre at UCC, which is making a huge difference to lives of children and their families, not just in Ireland but all over the world. We are delighted to be a significant player in bringing this new therapy to fruition and acknowledge the incredible work of our INFANT allergy research team, and particularly the incredible work of our colleague, Prof Jonathan Hourihane."
Prof Hourihane said there could be FDA approval for the treatment next year and it may be available commercially by 2020.
Allergies to foods are on the rise and have been linked to various factors such as antibiotic use and breastfeeding. The main allergies are to peanuts, shellfish, other nuts and egg.
He said parents should not avoid giving a baby a particular food unless the child has a diagnosed allergy.
"People avoid foods just in case. We want them to eat them just in case," he added.