National Jewish Joins Research Consortium Focusing on Peanut Allergy

The only advice doctors can give to the 4 percent of Americans with potentially life-threatening food allergies is to avoid the culprit food, often nuts or shellfish. But that may change as National Jewish Medical and Research Center joins five research institutions across the nation to launch the Food Allergy Research Consortium, which will strive to develop therapies to treat and prevent food allergy.

The consortium will receive approximately $17 million over five years from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health. In addition, a five-year NIAID grant totaling approximately $5 million to the Emmes Corporation, of Rockville, MD, will fund a statistical center to support the consortium.

The National Jewish team will be led by Donald Leung, MD, PhD Head of Pediatric Allergy-Immunology at National Jewish, and Andy Liu, MD, pediatric allergist at National Jewish.

“This consortium gives us a chance to address an important health problem,” said Dr. Liu. “Millions of people have this potentially life threatening disease, and its prevalence is increasing. Yet, we have no effective therapy. We now have an opportunity to change that.”

The consortium will conduct basic, clinical and epidemiological studies, and develop educational programs aimed at parents, children and healthcare providers.

The consortium’s first project will be a clinical study to evaluate a potential peanut allergy therapy. This potential therapy is expected to work in much the same fashion as allergy shots in which allergic individuals are given increasing doses of an allergen. The shots stimulate an immune response that protects against future allergic reactions. The existing approach, however, cannot be used in people with peanut allergies due to the risk of life-threatening reactions. To overcome this barrier, Hugh Sampson, MD, of Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, and Wesley Burks, MD, of Duke University, developed modified versions of peanut allergens that have been shown to be safe and effective in animal models. The consortium will evaluate these modified allergens in human clinical trials.

The consortium’s second project is an observational study that will enroll 400 infants who have allergies to milk or eggs. Such children are at higher risk of developing peanut allergy, but the vast majority will lose their allergies to those foods as they grow up. The study will follow the children for at least five years and study immunologic changes that accompany the loss of allergy to foods and the development of allergy to new foods.

The consortium’s third project will conduct basic immunobiology research to determine the biological mechanisms of peanut allergy in mice. This knowledge will provide insights into allergic mechanisms in humans, which will lead to the identification and development of potential strategies to treat and prevent food allergies in humans.

In addition, the consortium will conduct a two-pronged educational program to teach parents and children how to avoid food allergens, and train pediatric healthcare professionals to treat and prevent food allergy.

“The expertise of the Food Allergy Research Consortium provides a unique opportunity to investigate basic immunologic mechanisms associated with food allergy in animal models and humans, and, ultimately, to test novel therapies to treat food allergy,” says Daniel Rotrosen, MD, director of NIAID’s Division of Allergy, Immunology and Transplantation.

The four medical centers joining with National Jewish will be: Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Duke University School of Medicine, and University of Arkansas Children’s Hospital Research Institute. Researchers at Yale University will contribute basic immunological research to the consortium’s effort. Dr. Sampson, at Mt. Sinai, will lead the overall consortium.

NIAID is a component of the National Institutes of Health, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIAID supports basic and applied research to prevent, diagnose and treat infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, influenza, tuberculosis, malaria and illness from potential agents of bioterrorism. NIAID also supports research on transplantation and immune-related illnesses, including autoimmune disorders, asthma and allergies.

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