Leicester is to play a part in a groundbreaking trial that aims to eliminate food allergies for good. The £2.2 million trial has been launched after a teenager died from an allergic reaction to a baguette.
The oral immunotherapy (OIT) trial, which will be primarily led by the University of Southampton and University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, has been spearheaded by Tanya and Nadim Ednan-Laperouse. They are the parents of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died after she suffered a severe allergic reaction to sesame in a Pret baguette.
The teenager was just 15 when she ate the artichoke, olive and tapenade baguette from the Pret store at Heathrow airport before a flight to Nice with her father. The sandwich did not have any allergen advice on its wrapper because, as it was made on the premises, so this was not required by law.
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The OIT trial, which is being funded by the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation, will investigate whether commonly available peanut and milk products, taken under medical supervision, can be used as a treatment for people with food allergies. While led by a team in Southampton, it will also see work undertaken in Leicester too.
This will come from the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust as well as Imperial College London, Newcastle University and Sheffield Children’s Hospital. Set to cost £2.2 million, the trial hopes to show that people with food allergies may no longer have to avoid foods with small amounts of allergens due to production – and mean they may also be able to eat popular foods like cakes, curries and pizza.
In all, the study will recruit 216 people between the ages of three and 23 with an allergy to cow’s milk, and aged six to 23 with an allergy to peanuts. Following an initial 12 months of desensitisation under strict medical supervision, subjects will be followed for two more years to provide longer term data.
Speaking of the trial, Mr Ednan-Laperouse hoped it could eliminate allergies forever. He said: “This is a major first step in our mission to make food allergies history.
“The aim is to save lives and prevent serious hospitalisations by offering lifelong protection against severe allergic reactions to foods. We are delighted that a consortium of food businesses are supporting our work with donations that will help fund this study.
“The study aims to plug the current oral immunotherapy research gap by proving that everyday foods can be used as a practical treatment for children and young adults with allergies at a fraction of the cost to the NHS. If successful, this will empower the NHS to provide cost-effective treatments for people living with food allergies through oral immunotherapy.
“It would enable people, once desensitised under clinical supervision, to control their own lives and stay allergy safe using shop bought foods rather than expensive pharmaceutical products.”
Following Natasha’s death, a new food safety law – known as ‘Natasha’s Law’ – was introduced in October last year. Since being brought in, it requires full ingredient and allergen labelling on all food made on the premises.
Mrs Ednan-Laperouse believed her daughter’s death would not be for nothing. She said: “We have been determined that Natasha’s death should not be in vain.
“Following the successful implementation of Natasha’s Law, which has brought new ingredient and allergen labelling, we are delighted to announce the first Natasha clinical trial.”
Co-chief investigator of the trial, Dr Paul Turner, felt it was a potential game changer for many with allergies. Dr Turner, who reader in paediatric allergy and clinical immunology at Imperial College London, said: “This study heralds a new era for the active treatment of food allergy.
“For too long, we have told people just to avoid the food they are allergic to. That is not a treatment, and food-allergic people and their families deserve better.”