For the food allergy research community, the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) is one of the most important events of the year. FARE maintained a high profile at this year’s meeting, which was held in San Diego from February 27-March 4. FARE’s Medical and Research Advisory Boards met, and FARE representatives offered information about our programs at our booth in the exhibit hall. Most importantly, FARE-funded researchers, along with our medical advisors, gave presentations and led informative sessions.
Less than 10 years ago, few sessions focused on food allergy. This year’s meeting showed how far the field has come, with a wide range of sessions and presentations devoted to potential new therapies, basic science, managing food allergies in schools and restaurants, and psychosocial issues.
Of particular note, researchers presented data on potential treatments for food allergy, with a strong focus on oral immunotherapy (OIT). Although OIT is one of the most promising treatments in development, researchers still have many questions, including: What is the optimal dosage? How can we prevent patients on OIT from experiencing serious reactions? Can OIT result in tolerance – long-lasting immunological changes that will protect patients even after they stop the treatment? Several new studies are bringing us closer to finding the answers. (It is important to note that the results discussed here are preliminary, and have not yet been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.)
- Researchers at the University of Virginia reported on a clinical trial of patients who had been desensitized to peanut after a course of OIT. By eating a daily maintenance dose of one or two peanuts, some participants were able to achieve sustained unresponsiveness – meaning that they were able to eat peanut without having an allergic reaction.
- On the other hand, prolonged avoidance of peanuts after completing OIT may lead to a reversal of the beneficial effects of the treatment, according to a study conducted by investigators at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
- In a late-breaking abstract, researchers reported that combining OIT with omalizumab (Xolair®), an asthma medication, significantly reduced dosing-related side effects and the time needed to reach the maintenance dose in patients with milk allergy. FARE and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are funding this multi-center study – the first randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial to demonstrate the effects of this combination therapy.
- For more than a decade, FARE has provided partial funding for the development of a Chinese herbal treatment, Food Allergy Herbal Formula-2 (FAHF-2). A Phase 2 clinical trial is currently underway to test the effectiveness and safety of FAHF-2 in treating peanut, tree nut, fish, shellfish and sesame allergies. At the AAAAI meeting, Dr. Xiu-Min Li (Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai) presented the results of a pre-clinical study, which showed that combining the Chinese herbal formula with OIT reduced adverse reactions and produced greater post-OIT protection in mice with multiple nut allergies. Further studies are needed to evaluate this combination therapy in humans.
As the world’s largest source of private funding for food allergy research, FARE is committed to partnering with AAAAI to attract the most talented investigators to the field. At a benefit held during the meeting, AAAAI announced that FARE had contributed $50,000 to help establish the Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Education and Research Organization, Inc.’s (ARTrust™) $4 million Donald Leung and JACI Editors Allergy/Immunology Research Fund. Currently, the two leading contributors to the fund are FARE and Steve & Nancy Carell. In addition, since 2008, FARE has funded the AAAAI/Food Allergy Research & Education Howard J. Gittis Memorial Fellowship/Instructor Research Awards, which aim to shape the next generation of food allergy investigators. The recipient of the 2014 Gittis Award, who will be selected by an AAAAI committee, will be announced within the coming weeks. Finally, FARE invited young researchers to a reception, where they learned about our research grant program and strategic plan.
To learn more about current food allergy research, visit www.foodallergy.org/research.