Children with severe peanut allergies given small daily doses of peanut flour were able to build tolerance to the nuts, according to a study that suggests it is possible to treat the potentially deadly condition.
The small trial, the first successful program of its kind, aimed to slowly build immunity to peanuts in people with the common allergy, the team at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge said on Friday.
"For all our participants, a reaction could lead to life-threatening anaphylactic shock, but now we've got them to the point where they can safely eat at least 10 whole peanuts," said Andy Clark, who led the research published in the journal Allergy.
"It's not a permanent cure, but as long as they go on taking a daily dose they should maintain their tolerance."
Allergies to peanuts or any other food occur when the body's immune system mistakenly sees compounds from the foods as invaders and creates antibodies to fight them.
Scientists say peanut allergies are on the rise worldwide, but nobody knows why. There is no cure and people with the condition must avoid even the tiniest amount of food containing the nut.
Previous attempts to gradually build people's immunity to nuts failed after producing serious side effects, possibly because the trials involved injections rather than the more gentle doses the Cambridge team used, the researchers said.
At the start of the trial, the children were given a five milligram serving of peanut flour. This was slowly built up over six months until the volunteers trained their bodies to tolerate at least 800 milligrams, equivalent to five whole peanuts.
Four children took part in the initial study and a further 18 young people aged 7 to 17 are now following the program. The researchers said in future there was no reason why adults with severe peanut allergies could not also go on the program.