Natasha Trial may allow children with food allergies to live without fear

Trial participant Charlie being monitored by a nurse.
Trial participant Charlie being monitored by a nurse.

Parents of children with severe milk and peanut allergies have told how their lives have been transformed by the pioneering Natasha Clinical Trial, led by the University of Southampton with the University Hospital Southampton NHS Trust.

The £2.5 million trial, funded by The Natasha Allergy Research Foundation , uses daily doses of everyday food products, taken under strict medical supervision rather than expensive pharmaceuticals, to train the bodies of children and young people with food allergies to tolerate an allergen.

This approach - known as oral immunotherapy (OIT) - means children living with food allergies should no longer have an allergic reaction if they eat something which accidentally contains the food allergen, for example due to cross-contamination.

Doctors say they are already seeing children on the trial who are able to consume and tolerate the very foods which previously would have triggered a severe allergic reaction.

Hasan Arshad , Professor of Allergy and Clinical Immunology at the University of Southampton, who heads-up the Asthma, Allergy and Clinical Immunology department at University Hospital Southampton is Chief Investigator of the trial. He says: "We must wait until the trial is complete for the full picture but we are very pleased with the results we are seeing so far.

"At present, people with food allergies are asked to avoid the food they react to and carry adrenalin pens in case of accidental exposure. This is not a satisfactory situation and we would like them to be able to live their lives without having to avoid the popular foods that others enjoy or being fearful of accidental food allergic reactions.

" The Natasha Trial aims to do better for people living with food allergies. We are testing a clinically controlled procedure of gradual introduction of allergen foods until the point where these are tolerated. Our ultimate aim is a life without the risk of allergic reactions - reactions which for some, can be severe and life threatening."

If successful, the three-year trial, led by researchers at the University of Southampton, University Hospital Southampton and Imperial College London, will provide the evidence for the treatment to be made available on the NHS.

Thomas Farmer, aged 11, who was diagnosed with a severe peanut allergy when he was just a year old, can now eat six peanuts a day after joining the trial in Southampton. His mother Lauren says: "For Thomas to be able to achieve all this with no medicine - just off the shelf foods - is amazing."

Thomas joined the Natasha Trial in Southampton in March 2023, he could not tolerate even half a peanut. By January 2024, he was eating six peanuts a day - a dose he will keep in his diet.

Lauren adds: "Having food allergies can be really difficult and isolating. As parents, who have lived with managing a peanut allergy for nearly ten years, we knew we wanted to see if there was a way to understand it better and help to manage the allergy.

"At first, it was very scary for both Thomas and us when he did the food challenge, as we weren’t sure what to expect. Thomas persevered and we are so extremely proud of what he’s achieved so far and continues to achieve through this study.

"Knowing that Thomas can now tolerate six peanuts a day has taken away so much anxiety around food. It will also hopefully mean that he will be able to eat a wider variety of food as we won’t be so concerned about accidental exposure."

Thomas says: "I wanted to do the study so I can help people with the same allergy as me and to be a positive role model to others who may be going through the same as me."

The trial is being run across five hospitals: University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Sheffield Children’s Hospital. The trial will also shortly start in Scotland (Edinburgh and Aberdeen) with Bristol and Leeds hopefully joining soon after.

So far, a total of 139 children, aged 2 to 23 years with food allergy to peanut or cow’s milk, have started treatment on the Natasha Trial - the first major study to be funded by Natasha’s Foundation, set up by the parents of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse who died aged 15 from a severe food allergic reaction.

Natasha’s parents Nadim and Tanya Ednan-Laperouse, who have both been awarded OBEs for their services to charity and people with allergies, are delighted with how the trial is progressing.

Tanya says: "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."

Nadim added: "...we are harnessing the support of the food industry, who have helped fund this trial, to prove that OIT can work with everyday foods, making it more feasible to be available on the NHS."

The trial is also training a network of NHS staff to offer pioneering OIT treatment to people with food allergies.