More than 100 British children with severe peanut allergies are to be treated with an experimental desensitizing therapy that has had promising early results.

The study, in which children are given small daily doses of peanut flour to build tolerance to the potentially deadly allergen, is to begin next month at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge after scientists were awarded a one million dollar grant by the National Institute for Health Research.

It follows successful preliminary research, published a year ago, in which 21 of 23 children treated for peanut allergy showed substantial improvements over six months. By the end of their therapy the children could eat up to 12 nuts a day.

“The families involved say that it’s changed their lives,” Andrew Clark, a consultant in pediatric allergy who leads the project, told the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in San Diego.“Before they were checking every food label every time they ate food. They would worry it would cause a reaction or even kill them, but now they can go out and eat curries and Chinese food.

“They can eat everyday snacks and treats. For their birthday they can have chocolate cake and chocolates without any fear of reactions. So that's our real motivation — to try to develop that as a clinical treatment that we could spread to the rest of the country.”

Peanut allergies affect an estimated two percent of British children and is becoming more common. Effects include itching, rashes, and difficulty breathing.

The experimental treatment involves adding small amounts of peanut flour to yogurt, but starting with a dose of just 5 milligrams. Over six months it is increased to 800mg a week – the equivalent of five peanuts, or 160 times the dose the children can initially tolerate.

“This is going to be the largest trial of its kind in the world and it should give us a definitive idea of whether it works and whether it’s safe,” Dr Clark said. He emphasized that parents should not try the treatment without medical supervision.

“I think in two or three year’s time we will be in a position where we have a treatment that works but we are still working on a long-term cure.

“It’s likely to be a treatment that lasts at last two or three years, and we hope that once that's over we can withdraw the treatment and maintain long-term tolerance, but we need a long-term study to find out.”