South Australian researchers find boiled peanuts could help reduce children’s peanut allergies.
A new clinical trial, funded by the Channel 7 Children’s Research Foundation (CRF), has found that boiling peanuts can help up to 80 per cent of allergic children become desensitised to them.
The clinical trial is published in the journal Clinical & Experimental Allergy.
The trial’s extensive preclinical work was also made possible by CRF grants given to research undertaken by Dr Billy Tao (2017 and 2019), to Associate Professor Tim Chataway (2019) and to Dr Preethi Eldi (2020); each providing the critical preclinical scientific foundation to this clinical trial.
Boiling the nuts changes their chemical composition — lessening the likelihood of an allergic reaction and allowing researchers to gradually introduce nuts, which had been boiled for decreasing amounts of time, to children involved in the year-long trial.
By the end of the trial, 80 per cent of the children could tolerate a dose of 12 unboiled peanuts.
While it is potentially life-changing news for parents of children with severe nut allergies, such as nine-year-old Xavier Connery, experts warn against trying it at home.
However, scientists are working on further research with more widespread applications.
The trial was conducted by Flinders University and the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute, and involved 70 children aged 6-18 who suffered all from varying degrees of peanut allergies.
“Our clinical trial shows promising early signs in demonstrating that boiling peanuts may provide a safe and effective method for treating peanut-allergic children with sequential doses of boiled and roasted peanuts over an extended period of time,” CRF Fellow and Associate Professor Luke Grzeskowiak said.
Over the first 12 weeks of the trial, the peanuts given to the children were boiled for 12 hours. Over the next 20 weeks, they were boiled for just two hours and then for the final 20 weeks roasted, unboiled peanuts were given.
While 61 per cent of the participants experienced “treatment-related adverse affects” during the trial, just three children had to withdraw because of the those affects — with scientists saying it “demonstrated a favourable safety profile”.
Of the 67 participants who reached the end of the trial, 56 (or 80 per cent of the original cohort) had become desensitised to the target dose of peanuts.
And of the 45 desensitised participants who were involved in follow-up research six months later, 43 could still consume the target dosage of peanuts with no serious allergic reactions, Grzeskowiak said.
The research is good news for Brigette Connery, and could reduce the stress over meal times for her son Xavier – who is among the 3 per cent of children in the Western world who suffer from peanut allergies.
When he was just 18 months old, Xavier was rushed to hospital after eating a small amount of satay sauce.
“His mouth started swelling up, he started getting hives around his mouth and face and then … he projectile vomited,” Brigette said.
While some paediatricians have previously recommended various types of oral immunotherapy (OIT), including increasing amounts of food allergens given under medical supervision depending in the severity of the allergy, no OIT products have been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
University of South Australia expert Dr Preethi Eldi, who is looking at developing vaccines for peanut allergies, said studies such as this latest one were a positive step to having OITs approved.
“What these OIT trials do is give you the option to increase your threshold, but depending on you continuing to undergo that treatment,” Eldi said.
“That’s the thing with OIT, (it’s a) long or life-long treatment … it makes it tricky to keep that threshold of desensitisation.”
Eldi said previous studies had shown about 20 per cent of children who had undergone OIT had completely overcome their peanut allergy, while 80 per cent were more tolerant.
Xavier said if was able to overcome his allergy, it would make meal times much more enjoyable.
“Sometimes I feel left out from eating food,” he said.
His mother said she would be much less stressed when she wasn’t present at Xavier’s meal times.
“It would be absolutely life-changing to be really honest with you, because it’s something that’s always in the back of our minds,” Brigette said.
Grzeskowiak said a larger definitive clinical trial would be necessary to further confirm the study’s results.
“With no currently approved treatment for peanut allergy in Australia, there is a lot more research to be done,” he said.
“Oral immunotherapy doesn’t work for everyone and we are in the process of improving our understanding of how these treatments work and what factors can influence how people respond to treatment.
“This will be really important for assessing individual suitability for treatment and improve treatment decisions in the future.”
The Flinders University researchers strongly advised against families trying the experiment at home.
“If you don’t do it correctly, you may be generating a product that’s really still quiet allergic,” Associate Professor Tim Chataway said.