One in 12 people under the age of 21 have been diagnosed with a food allergy — a rate that’s doubling each decade. In one of the most aggressive efforts to date, leading allergy experts from across the nation are ramping up research in search of new answers they hope will leave more families breathing easy.
The University of Chicago Medicine is among 22 centers of excellence chosen to be inaugural members of the FARE Clinical Network, created to accelerate development of therapies and raise the standard of care for people with life-threating food allergies.
Science Life spoke to Christina Ciaccio, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Chicago Medicine and medical director of the new center of excellence, about the new clinical network, and why it’s good news for the millions of people who tread carefully in a world filled with peanuts, shellfish, eggs, soy, tree nuts, fish, wheat, corn and other common triggers.
What is FARE?
Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) is the leading advocacy organization working on behalf of those with food allergies. FARE’s mission is to improve the quality of life and the health of individuals with food allergies, and to provide them hope through the promise of new treatments.
Why is this research important now?
Food allergy is serious medical condition that has been steadily increasing in prevalence, now affecting nearly 15 million people in the United States. There are roughly two children with a food allergy in every classroom in the country.
What are aims of the FARE Clinical Network?
The FARE Clinical Network is a bold initiative that aims to accelerate the development of drugs for patients with food allergies as well as improve the quality of care for this serious illness. The FARE Clinical Network brings member institutions together for a common goal of ensuring that patients with food allergies have access to state-of-the-art diagnosis, treatments, and research.
What will participation in the Clinical Network do for patients at the University of Chicago?
The University of Chicago will serve as a clinical trial site for cutting edge treatments for food allergy while helping to develop best practices for the care of patients with food allergies. UChicago will now also have the opportunity to contribute to a national food allergy patient registry and biorepository that may lead to significant new insights in food allergy in the coming years.
What do you believe the impact of these new insights will be?
We believe that in the near future we will be able to offer new treatments to patients with food allergies that will decrease the likelihood of experiencing a severe allergic reaction and may even offer a cure for some. We have already this year made significant advances in our ability to prevent peanut allergy in high-risk children, research that may also lead to prevention of all food allergies.
When and why did you become interested in allergy research?
I grew up on a small farm in Kankakee, where we spent considerable time outdoors growing fruits and vegetables and caring for animals, which provided fresh meat and eggs. During medical school and training, I learned that this lifestyle may have helped keep my immune system in check and protected me from developing allergic diseases for the rest of my life. I was very attracted to the idea that we may be able to figure out exactly what it is about this lifestyle that helps regulate our immune systems and use this to prevent, treat or even cure allergic disease in the future.
What are the most important things for parents and caregivers of children with allergies to know now?
New research is changing the way we care for patients with food allergies every single year. Make sure you are touching base with your allergist on a regular basis to see if any of these recent advances will affect the treatment course of your child with food allergies or your child’s siblings.