Food allergies are at an all-time high, affecting 1 in 13 kids. This number is up 50 percent from 1997 and 32 percent since 2007 according to recent CDC studies. Additionally, in 2006, 88 percent of schools had at least one student with food allergies; 16 to 18 percent of these children had a reaction from accidentally eating an allergen while at school. Consequently, the United States is spending 25 billion dollars annually on issues related to food allergies in children, according to the Journal of American Medical Association for pediatrics.
Because these numbers have continued to increase rapidly over the last eight years, recent legislative changes have targeted prevention, treatment and emergency response for children suffering from allergies. Finding a cure for food allergies is more important than ever and the Food Allergy Awareness and Education Network (FARE) is committed to this cause.
In fall of 2013, FARE, in collaboration with leading allergy experts, unveiled its comprehensive food allergy research strategic plan entitled, “A Vision and Plan for Food Allergy Research.” The plan is designed to “expand the number of highly qualified centers conducting clinical research, increase the number of clinical trials underway, and facilitate the collaboration between research centers needed to expedite studies.” The plan details FARE’s strategy for “building a deep scientific understanding” of food allergies, and “accelerating the development of safe, practical therapies that would shield individuals with food allergies from life-threatening reactions.”
One of those strategic elements is to attract preeminent researchers to the field of food allergies, and develop their careers by providing seed funding, grants, and awards that promote exploration of new solutions.
Nearly one year later, on September 8, 2014, FARE awarded a research grant totaling $734,986 to Fred Finkelman, M.D., an immunologist at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine/Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) provided an additional grant of $1.3 million for the research.
Dr. Finkleman’s research is focused on developing an innovative therapeutic approach that would rapidly and safely suppress food allergies.
How Food Allergy Suppression Works, in Theory
Dr. Finkelman and his team of researchers created a “monoclonal” antibody that targets and “deactivates mast cells.” Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-produced antibodies engineered to attach to specific cells predetermined by scientists. They mimic antibodies that naturally occur in the body as part of the immune system.
Mast cells, among other things, are the part of the immune system that cause inflammation and regulate immune, allergy and infection fighting functions. When too many mast cells are present, they may malfunction and create inflammation and allergic reaction to otherwise harmless substances introduced into the body.
Mast cells contain receptors that can bind to IgE antibodies after the first exposure to a perceived allergen. Over the next several days after exposure, mast cells become “primed” with IgE antibodies, which then attack the next time the perceived allergen is introduced to the body, causing an allergic reaction. Dr. Finkelman’s experimental monoclonal antibody removes both the IgE receptors and the IgE on mast cells so they cannot react. Previous studies in mice showed introduction of the monoclonal antibody prevented anaphylaxis.
If research continues to be successful, therapy with injectable monoclonal antibodies may provide a cure for food allergies.
With the new funding, Dr. Finkelman and his team hope to continue their research to develop a safe, injectable treatment therapy that would quickly desensitize patients to food allergies, maybe even in as little as 24 hours.
In the interim, researchers will continue studying mice before moving to a primate model if successful. Success in primate models could lead to Phase 1 clinical trials in humans and a step closer to a cure for food allergies.