McLEAN, Va. (February 23, 2015) – Groundbreaking results of the first randomized clinical trial to prevent food allergy in a large group of high-risk infants were presented today at the annual scientific meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) in Houston. Sustained consumption of a peanut-containing snack in a controlled study by infants at high risk for developing a peanut allergy prevented them from developing a peanut allergy, according to the findings from the Learning Early About Peanut allergy (LEAP) study, which was funded by Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health.
Published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, researchers led by Gideon Lack, M.D., of Kings College London, found that regular peanut consumption achieved an 86 percent reduction in peanut allergy at age 5 among children who had negative skin prick tests to peanut at study entry, and a 70 percent reduction in peanut allergy among those who were sensitized to peanut (positive skin prick test) at the beginning of the study. The study was designed and conducted by the Immune Tolerance Network, a collaborative network of clinical researchers sponsored by NIAID.
FARE CEO James R. Baker, Jr., MD, noted that these findings provide significant evidence that the timing of the introduction of peanut into an infant’s diet can influence whether the child develops peanut allergy.
“FARE remains committed to investing in research that helps us better understand food allergy as a disease and provides hope for new treatments – including approaches that can help prevent people from developing allergies to food. This study will likely have a significant impact on approaches to prevent the development of peanut allergy in future generations. We are very pleased to have supported it,” Baker said. “It is also important to note that this study was conducted as a formal, controlled clinical trial, with a well-defined infant cohort to give a definitive answer on the role of early food avoidance in the prevention of peanut allergy. Despite these impressive results, children and adults who already have peanut allergy should not attempt to introduce foods that contain peanut into their diets without first consulting with their physician.”
Investigators tested the hypothesis that regularly eating foods containing peanut – if started during within the first year of life – could elicit a protective immune response rather than an allergic reaction. More than 600 children between 4 months and 11 months of age were enrolled in the LEAP study to compare the likelihood of developing peanut allergy in children who either ate or avoided peanut until the age of 5. All of the infants in the study were considered at high risk for developing peanut allergy because they had severe eczema and/or egg allergy.
The children exposed to peanuts ate a peanut-containing snack at least three times a week while the other group did not eat any foods containing peanut. By the age of 5, just 3 percent of the children who ate the snack developed peanut allergy, while 17 percent in the avoidance group developed peanut allergy. In short, for these high-risk infants, sustained consumption of peanut starting in the first 11 months of life was highly effective in preventing the development of peanut allergy, according to the study authors.
“For decades allergists have been recommending that young infants avoid consuming allergenic foods such as peanut to prevent food allergies. Our findings suggest that this advice was incorrect and may have contributed to the rise in the peanut and other food allergies,” Lack said. “We are appreciative of the continuing support we have received from FARE for this important study.”
Whether the children in the trial continue to remain protected will be investigated further in the LEAP-On study.
“ Our findings demonstrate that early, sustained consumption of peanut products is associated with a substantial and significant decrease in the development of peanut allergy in high-risk infants. Conversely, peanut avoidance is associated with greater frequency of clinical peanut allergy than consumption, questioning the utility of deliberate avoidance of peanut as a strategy to prevent allergy,” the authors conclude.
More information about this study may be found by visiting the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the Immune Tolerance Network, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, and FARE’s blog.