Researchers ‘astounded’ by results of probiotic peanut allergy study

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

The use of a probiotic and small doses of peanut protein showed surprising results
The use of a probiotic and small doses of peanut protein showed surprising results

Related tags Allergy Immune system

A probiotic could hold the key to treating peanut allergies in children, researchers in Melbourne have found.

In a study at Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, scientists successfully completed initial trials to find that a course of the Lactobacillus rhamnosus probiotic, alongside a gradually increasing dose of peanuts themselves, could potentially provide a long-term cure for allergy sufferers.

Over 60 children with peanut allergies took part in the study, in which some were given doses of the probiotic and peanut protein over 18 months to assess whether they would become tolerant to peanut.

Eight in 10 children became tolerant

While the probiotic dose was fixed daily, the nut protein dose was increase every two weeks until the a target of 2 grams was reached. At the end of the treatment, the child's ability to tolerate peanut was assessed two to five weeks after stopping treatment.

Researchers admitted they were astounded after finding that more than 80% of children who received the oral immunotherapy treatment were able to tolerate peanuts at the end of the trial. Just 4% of the placebo group had the same tolerance, meaning the therapy was 20 times higher than the natural rate of resolution for peanut allergy.

"The combined delivery of probiotic and oral immunotherapy was a safe and effective treatment for peanut allergy; however it is important to point out that this treatment must be only be given under close medical supervision as we were giving peanuts to children who were allergic, and the children did have allergic reactions​,” said Associate Professor Mimi Tang, the lead researcher. 

Nevertheless, the likelihood of success is high. Based on the results, if nine children are given probiotic and peanut therapy, seven would benefit.

Long-term benefits not yet known

Tang said the study results are extremely exciting as they could potentially provide an effective treatment for food allergy.

"It appears that we have been able to modify the allergic response to peanut such that the immune system produces protective responses rather than a harmful response to the peanut protein​,” she said.

All but five of the 28 probiotic-treated children were able to include peanuts in their diet at the end of the trial—compared to just one of the children treated with placebos.

The need for a curative treatment is greatest for peanut allergy since this is usually lifelong, and is the most common cause of fatality due to food induced anaphylaxis, Tang said.

Further research is now needed to confirm whether patients can still tolerate peanut years after the study has finished.

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