We are pleased to announce that a FARE-funded researcher, Dr. Cathryn Nagler of the University of Chicago, has received a multi-year, $1.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Over several years, FARE has provided more than $1.5 million to Dr. Nagler and her team.
FARE’s support has enabled Dr. Nagler to identify a new strain of “good” intestinal bacteria that may protect the body against allergic sensitization to food. In September 2013, FARE awarded a bridge grant to Dr. Nagler, which allowed her to pursue her studies while awaiting the NIH’s response to her application for a more extensive grant that continues to explore the therapeutic potential of these bacteria.
Dr. Nagler and other experts believe that genetics alone cannot account for the dramatic increase in food allergies. They are exploring the theory that environmental stimuli interact with the immune system to promote allergic disease. To this end, researchers are studying how the microbiome – the vast collection of microbes, such as bacteria and viruses, that inhabit our bodies – influences our health. While some of these microbes cause disease, others keep us healthy. For example, some probiotics (that is, “good” bacteria) help us digest our food, while others regulate the immune system and protect us against “bad” bacteria.
Dr. Nagler and her team have been studying mice to learn how specific environmental factors – such as diet, antibiotics, intestinal worms, and “bad” bacteria – alter the environment of the gut, making the rodents more susceptible to food allergies. Data from previous studies support their theory. Antibiotic use in infancy, in particular, has been linked to the rising incidence of allergic disease. Dr. Nagler has shown that administering oral antibiotics to mice before they are weaned depletes populations of good bacteria from the intestines. As a result, these mice are predisposed to allergic responses to food.
If successful, this mouse model ultimately may enable scientists to develop and test new probiotic formulations, which would be used to prevent food allergy in infants or to enhance the protection that existing treatments, such as oral immunotherapy, might provide. It is important to keep in mind that, while promising, this potential therapy has not yet been studied in humans.
This innovative research exemplifies a crucial goal of FARE’s strategic plan for food allergy research: attracting gifted investigators to the field of food allergy by providing long-term support that allows them to advance their work and generate enough data to merit larger grants from the NIH and other federal agencies.
To learn more about current FARE studies and our research vision, please visit www.foodallergy.org/research.