The death of 15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who collapsed on a flight after an allergic reaction to sesame seeds, was shocking, heartbreaking and a giant wake-up call to the food industry.
Now, researchers at Southampton University are looking into a way of stopping tragedies like this happening again.
They aim to prove that commonly available peanut and milk products, taken under medical supervision, can be used as a treatment for people living with food allergies.
Sounds scary doesn’t it? But the three-year oral immunotherapy (OIT) trial is the first major study funded by The Natasha Allergy Research Foundation, set up by Natasha’s parents after her death in 2016.
It hopes to show that everyday foods containing peanut or milk, taken very carefully under medical supervision, can be used as an alternative to drugs to desensitise patients.
If successful, people with food allergies will be able to live their lives without having to avoid popular foods that may contain small amounts of allergens due to cross contamination.
The Research Founding Partners have also donated to Natasha’s foundation – a consortium of food firms including Greggs, Tesco, Just Eat, Co-op, Morrisons, KFC, Bakkavor, Sainsbury’s, Bidfood, Costa Coffee, Elior UK, Burger King, Pret a Manger, Lidl, Leon, Cooplands and Uber Eats.
The trial will be led by researchers at Southampton University partnering with Imperial College London – both World Allergy Organisation Centres of Excellence – together with University Hospitals of Leicester, Newcastle and Sheffield.
They will recruit 216 people between the ages of three and 23 with an allergy to cow’s milk, and aged between six and 23 allergic to peanuts, for an initial 12 months of desensitisation.
Then there will be two more years of monitoring in terms of longer-term safety and cost effectiveness.
The aim is to gather evidence so that OIT, using commercially available foods, could be approved for use in the NHS to treat patients most at risk of anaphylaxis from food allergies – when airways narrow, stopping you from breathing.
Natasha’s parents Nadim and Tanya, who were both awarded OBEs this year for their services to charity and people with allergies, were delighted to announce the trial.
Hasan Arshad, Professor of Allergy and Clinical Immunology at the University of Southampton, said: “This project presents a unique opportunity to establish immunotherapy as a practical treatment that will allow people with food allergies to live a normal life.”