Peanut allergy is increasingly common, affecting one in 70 schoolchildren, available data says. The question is whether early exposure can prevent// the allergy.
A joint team of scientists from the King's College London and doctors at Guy's and St Thomas' hospital, are taking up a seven-year study and hope to rope in 480 children in the seven-year study.
The babies being studied are between four and 11 months and already have eczema or egg allergy, putting them at high risk of being allergic to peanuts.
Current guidelines advise women to avoid nuts during pregnancy if there is a family history of allergy. This group is also advised not to give their babies peanuts before they are three-years-old.
It is not clear how to prevent peanut allergy. Some studies suggest that peanut avoidance in early infancy may help to prevent allergy, whereas other research suggests the opposite may be true.
Professor Gideon Lack, who will be leading the Leap (Learning Early About Peanut allergies) study, has been looking into the subject for many years.
He said: "Recent evidence suggests that children who eat peanut snacks early in life may in fact be protected against peanut allergy, in contrast with previous studies which have suggested the opposite."
In the study, the babies will be divided into two groups. One will receive a peanut snack regularly for the first three years of life, whereas the control group will completely avoid peanuts.
Both groups will be assessed for peanut allergy when they are five-years-old.
Professor Lack said, "Determining whether avoidance or early exposure to peanut prevents the development of peanut allergy and understanding how this happens will have important clinical implications.
"Our study findings may result in a change in public health policy to prevent food allergies and will enable scientists to identify important treatment targets to try and deve
lop cures for children who already suffer from peanut allergy."
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