Trial may allow children with food allergies to live without the fear of a serious reaction

Young patients at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust are taking part in a new randomised controlled trial that could transform the lives of children with food allergies.

The NATASHA trial, funded by the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation, uses oral immunotherapy, which is when daily doses of the food allergen are taken under strict medical supervision to train a person’s immune system not to react to a food they are allergic to.

The trial is being undertaken at nine NHS sites across the country and is led at the Trust by consultant in paediatric allergy and immunology Dr Nandinee Patel. Dr Paul Turner, an honorary consultant at the Trust, is one of the national leads for the study.

Research teams say they are already seeing children on the study who can consume and tolerate foods which previously would have triggered a severe allergic reaction and may have required medical care.

This means that these children no longer have an allergic reaction if they eat something which accidentally contains the food they are allergic to, for example due to cross-contamination. Furthermore, they can now eat foods they previously had to avoid.

Dr Turner said: ‘While introducing potential food allergens into a baby’s diet in a safe way can prevent food allergies from developing in the first place, this doesn’t always work and cannot help those who already have food allergies. We hope this study will show that using everyday foods under medical supervision can be a treatment for food allergy.’

If successful, the three-year study, which began in 2023 and is led by researchers at Imperial College London, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, University of Southampton and University Hospital Southampton, will provide evidence for the treatment to be made more widely available on the NHS. The trial is also training a network of NHS staff to offer this pioneering oral immunotherapy treatment to people with food allergies.

The trial is the first major study to be funded by the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation, set up by the parents of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died aged 15 from a severe food allergic reaction.

Natasha’s mother, Tanya, founder and trustee of the charity said: “We are so happy that some children with peanut and milk allergies are already seeing the benefits of using everyday foods under medical supervision to treat their allergic disease. If Natasha were alive today, this is exactly the type of research she would have loved to be part of. This is a major first step in our mission to make food allergies history. We look forward to seeing the final results.”

Jayden’s story

15-year-old Jayden has lived with severe food allergies for most of his life and was unable to eat anything with even potential traces of milk. Earlier this year, he was screened as part of the NATASHA trial and Dr Turner found that he could tolerate a small amount of milk without having an anaphylactic reaction. This meant the clinical team could fast track him to have oral immunotherapy treatment for his milk allergy and increase how much he could have more quickly.

As a result of being screened for the trial, Jayden can now enjoy pizza with his friends and a chocolate bar after school. "Being involved with the trial has been life changing for me. I was so restricted in terms of the food I could eat because so many foods have traces of milk in them, but now I can have some milk every day it means I can go out and enjoy eating with my friends without worrying. It's been great to be able to taste and enjoy foods that I've never been able to have before."

His mum, Trudi, says it's not only been life changing for Jayden, but for their whole family: "On a recent holiday in Edinburgh we were turned away from six restaurants one lunchtime that were unable to be sure that Jayden's food would not be contaminated with milk. Now that he has received the oral immunotherapy treatment things have completely changed for our family. I no longer need to cook Jayden's food separately, we can go out to eat together and, most importantly, I just know he is so much safer when he's out and about, enjoying his life and time with his friends. As a mum, having that reassurance about his safety has been completely life changing."

Research at Imperial College Healthcare is supported by funding from the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Imperial Biomedical Research Centre (BRC), a translational research partnership between Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Imperial College London, which was awarded £95m in 2022 to continue developing new experimental treatments and diagnostics for patients.