The Food Allergy Center is currently enrolling peanut allergic children ages 7–21 years in an oral immunotherapy study (OIT). The Food Allergy Center is also gearing up for an OIT study funded by the National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Disease (part of the NIH) looking at older adolescents and adults (age 16 years and up) with milk and peanut allergies. Recruitment should begin in the winter 2012. The research will focus on how the T cell arm of the immune system is changed by OIT and which changes are best associated with clinical protection. We hope that studying these cells will help researchers understand and improve immunotherapy.
What is next for oral immunotherapy?
With the above studies paving the way, the Food Allergy Center is also determined to conduct a new, multi-food study in collaboration with Stanford University in the not-too-distant future. The hope is that multi-food allergic individuals would receive increasing amounts of different allergens sequentially, enabling researchers to examine how immune system responses to one food during OIT may impact the tolerance to another. We are currently seeking foundation and private support for this work.
The world-class infrastructure for clinical research at Mass General and the expertise of our team has also led to our anticipated participation in a number of multi-center trials for new approaches to treating food allergies, including a new anti-IgE drug and a trans-cutaneous allergen delivery device, among others.
Researchers within the Food Allergy Center are also actively pursuing additional innovative approaches including the use of specific adjuvants (immune-boosting additives used with vaccines) that may help the immune system overcome an allergic reaction. Although, not yet applied to the treatment of food allergy, some adjuvants have already shown promise when used to treat environmental allergies, which are similar in mechanism to allergies to foods.
In addition to researching new therapies, scientists are investigating the use of newer diagnostic tests that will more accurately identify those who are truly allergic to a food and those who are at the most risk for accidental reactions without doing as many time-consuming food challenges.