This week, May 10-16, marks Food Allergy Awareness Week, a time to focus public awareness on this growing health problem. Together with the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), a patient and family advocacy group at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) encourage all Americans to help those affected by this life-limiting disease.
A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicates that the number of young people diagnosed with food allergy increased by 18 percent during the past decade, confirming anecdotal impressions of many physicians, school nurses and parents.
Statement of Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., and Daniel Rotrosen, M.D., on Food Allergy Awareness Week, May 10 ?16, 2009:
This statistic adds to our sense of urgency to help those with food allergies and who are at risk for anaphylaxis, a severe, life-threatening whole-body allergic reaction. According to the CDC, almost 4 percent of adults and 5 percent of children under the age of six are affected by food allergy.
Allergic reactions to food can range from mild, itchy hives to anaphylaxis, the most severe reaction. Currently, the only way to prevent food-induced allergic reactions is by strict allergen avoidance, adding to the stresses felt by allergic individuals and their families. Even with strict avoidance, families live in fear of an accidental exposure that could trigger a severe allergic reaction. Although prompt treatment can alleviate the symptoms of a severe allergic reaction, such treatment is not always effective. Thus, there is a tremendous need for strategies that prevent the development of food allergy and for improved diagnosis and management of the disease.
Within the National Institutes of Health, NIAID is the lead institute for research on food allergy. NIAID is committed to supporting research to improve our understanding of the disease and better prevention, diagnosis and management. We support a growing portfolio of basic research in allergy and immunology that is examining the molecular mechanisms and cellular interactions that occur in response to food allergens, to understand how tolerance to foods normally develops and how it is lost in people with food allergies. NIAID-supported researchers also are developing new animal models of food allergy that more closely resemble the human disease.
NIAID also conducts clinical trials that are attempting to alter the body’s immune responses to foods so that they no longer induce allergic reactions. One trial will determine whether early and regular consumption of a peanut snack by children at risk of developing peanut allergy will promote tolerance and prevent the development of the allergy. Other ongoing trials are assessing whether the oral ingestion of egg powder will induce tolerance, and the effectiveness of an extract of modified peanut given under the tongue as a therapy for peanut allergy. In addition, an observational study is under way on the effects of food allergen exposure in young children to provide insight into what factors may influence the development of the disease.
We are pleased to be working as partners with more than 30 professional organizations, Federal agencies and patient advocacy groups to develop clinical practice guidelines for the diagnosis and management of food allergy. We expect these guidelines to be available in 2010. Standardized clinical guidelines will help healthcare providers better diagnose food allergy, manage ongoing food allergy and treat acute food allergy reactions.
One of the greatest challenges in food allergy research is increasing the number of scientists and clinicians who work in this area. In the past year, NIAID, with cosponsorship from two patient and family advocacy groups, FAAN and the former Food Allergy Project, now part of the Food Allergy Initiative, funded a new initiative in food allergy research. The aims of the initiative are twofold: to stimulate high-impact, innovative research studies, and to encourage participation of investigators new to the field of food allergy research. Funded projects include studies to predict which food proteins are likely to cause allergic reactions, the factors that trigger severe responses, and the contribution of other immune disorders to food allergy. Importantly, each grantee, though an expert in the areas of allergy and immunology, is new to the specialized field of food allergy, which should lead to original approaches and novel discoveries. We will continue to work to draw more scientists to this field of research.
As we observe Food Allergy Awareness Week, we commend the individuals, families and constituent groups for their commitment to taking action against this life-limiting and sometimes deadly disease. Their efforts have helped clinicians and researchers make progress in the scientific understanding of food allergies and raised the public’s awareness of this serious disease. NIAID will continue to support food allergy research with the goal of reducing the onerous burden of this disease that affects millions of individuals, especially children.