An innovative study investigating whether high environmental exposure to peanut is a risk for developing peanut allergy is being run at the Department of Paediatric Allergy, King’s College London School of Medicine.
The research, *funded by children’s health charity Action Medical Research, was announced to help mark Indoor Allergy Week (25 – 29 October 2010).
In this project researchers are studying 3,250 children from the USA, Australia, Sweden and the UK who have been followed up from birth or early infancy.They are measuring the levels of peanut protein in dust samples taken from the children’s homes: from bed linen, mattresses and sofas.
They aim to find out whether babies who are exposed to high levels of peanuts in house dust, are more likely to develop a peanut allergy. They are also investigating whether babies who have an impaired skin barrier, e.g. children with eczema or certain variations in a gene called filaggrin, are especially vulnerable.
The number of children who are allergic to peanuts has trebled in the last 10 years1, and peanuts and tree nuts have been reported to cause more than 90 per cent of fatalities due to food allergic reactions2. Around one in 50 children in the UK are currently affected, approximately 250,000 children3. Once diagnosed, the majority of children remain allergic to peanuts for the rest of their lives: only one in five grow out of their allergy4.
As there is no proven long-term treatment, affected children must avoid eating peanuts in any form, at all times, which can be difficult, as traces of peanuts are found in many different foods.
It is not known what causes peanut allergy, however recent evidence suggests that skin contact with traces of peanuts, e.g. in house dust or skin creams could be a cause.
Commenting on the research, Dr Helen Brough, Clinical Lecturer in Paediatric Allergy says: “We are excited about this project as the results could provide us a greater understanding of the role of peanut protein in the home environment in the development of peanut allergy, and help us to give families practical advice on how to minimise the risk of developing peanut allergy.”
Dr Yolande Harley, Deputy Director of Research at Action Medical Research adds: “Peanut allergy can be life threatening which is why we, as a charity, are committed to supporting research that improves understanding of the causes, with the ultimate aim of preventing or reducing the risk of children developing peanut allergy.”
The team will measure the levels of peanut in dust samples taken from the homes of children. This will help them determine if there is a link between levels of early peanut exposure and the development of peanut allergy in both normal babies and babies with an impaired skin barrier, due to eczema or certain variations in a gene called filaggrin.
This study should increase the knowledge of how peanut allergy develops, and could also help researchers develop strategies to prevent peanut and possibly other food allergies from developing.
Previous studies have shown that peanut allergy is more common in children with eczema and more recent studies suggest that it may be skin exposure to peanut that leads to peanut allergy. Professor Lack’s team conducting this research recently showed a link between household peanut consumption and environmental exposure to peanut in the home.
The results showed that household peanut consumption in the home in the previous six months was related to the amount of peanut that was measurable in the parent’s bed-sheets and also in their baby’s bed-sheets and play areas.