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The Food Allergy Center strives to answer why some people react to certain foods. Research provides hope for future treatment of patients with food allergies.

Food Allergy Center Research Provides Hope for Future Treatment of Food Allergies

07/Dec/2012

Our mission at the Food Allergy Center is to uncover the mysteries of allergic disease and develop better and ultimately curative treatments.  In the process, we also strive to improve our diagnostic abilities and provide cutting edge care). 

Here is a brief overview of several aspects of our research program in furtherance of these goals.

Active Studies

Peanut Oral Immunotherapy

This study seeks to enable our peanut-allergic patients to safely ingest peanuts. What we learn will apply to other foods as well. The study has enrolled 22 subjects this past year and is still recruiting. Eleven participants are now actively eating peanut flour and three more will soon start.  Our first study participant reached the maintenance dose of 8,000 mg of peanut flour a few weeks ago! In total, our participants have consumed over 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of peanut flour.

During the next year, we will continue enrolling new subjects and look forward to conducting the first open-food challenge and double-blind food challenge for the study later this fall.

Using Biomarkers Instead of Endoscopy to Evaluate Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE)

Our patients and families have very clearly shared with us the difficulties associated with repeat endoscopy and we have observed them first-hand. With that in mind, we are conducting a study to develop a less invasive way to evaluate our EoE patients' responses to dietary interventions.  We will study various biomarkers over the long term in hopes of determining which might reliably predict tissue eosinophilia.  Out of a possible 200 patients from the pediatric endoscopy unit, 117 have been enrolled thus far and samples are beginning to be analyzed.

Discovery of Eiomarkers to Gauge the Severity of Allergic Disease

One of the most common questions we hear from parents is, "How allergic is my child?"  Current testing does not give us an answer. We are asking people who are allergic to peanut, milk, egg or wheat to give an extra sample during a regular blood draw. Looking at these samples, we will measure different indicators to see in greater detail how food allergens are recognized by the body of allergic individuals. Our hope is that better understanding these changes will enable us to more accurately predict the severity of an allergic reaction.

Characterizing the Natural History of Eosinophilic Esophagitis

Using a database of all patients with EoE presenting to the FAC since March 2010, we hope to study correlations between clinical observations, laboratory tests, treatment and health outcomes. Little is currently known about how many patients with EoE go on to develop complications and how treatment affects the natural course. This puts patients and their families in the difficult position of making treatment decisions without a full understanding of the risk-to-benefit ratio.

Characterizing the Natural History of Food Allergy

Using the database of all patients with food allergies presenting to the FAC since March 2010, we hope to study correlations between clinical observations, laboratory tests, food challenges, treatment and health outcomes.

Upcoming Studies

VIASKINĀ® Peanut's Efficacy and Safety for Treating Peanut Allergy in Children and Adults

This study will test the efficacy and safety of ViaskinĀ® Peanut, an allergen extract of peanut administered to the skin using the ViaskinĀ® epicutaneous delivery system in children and adults (6 to 65 years old) with peanut allergy. The study will analyze any change in the amount of peanut necessary to induce a reaction following treatment by Viaskin Peanut, the change in peanut skin test sensitivity and other immune changes. We had our official initiation Friday, Sept. 28 and will start enrolling between 5 and10 subjects here at Mass General shortly thereafter. The company is also developing a similar product for milk allergy that has already undergone some safety testing in Europe. This could become a safer and much more convenient way of inducing tolerance if it works.

Clinical Desensitization and Tolerance Following Peanut (or Milk) Oral Immunotherapy

Later this fall, we anticipate starting another peanut immunotherapy study, this one funded by the National Institutes of Health.  We will help participants (ages 16 to65) reach the maintenance dose of peanut flour. After that stage of therapy is complete, we will ask them to avoid peanut completely for 16 weeks. Subsequent testing to determine desensitization or tolerance will teach us about the effectiveness of peanut immunotherapy. This is critically important if this form of immunotherapy is ever to become a mainstream treatment. We will also look at how cells change during this process so that we can better understand which changes correlate with real protection and, in the future, more intelligently target that change. The NIH has granted us its final approval and we are now submitting to our ethics board.  We will start the process for a similar milk study later this fall.

Future Ideas

We hope to conduct multiple food immunotherapy for which we are actively seeking funding. 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 development of tolerance to another.

We would also like to increase our funding for the study of EoE as well as for the preclinical development of novel treatments and diagnostics.

If you have would like to participate in or have any questions about our research program, please contact us at foodallergy@harvard.edu.  If you would like to support our research efforts, please contact Eugene Mahr from our development office at emahr@partners.org.

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