A Cure for Food Allergies on the Horizon?

Before we have any hope for a food allergy cure, we need to understand why food allergies exist in the first place. Some studies say genetics play a role. Other claims involve genetically engineered foods. There’s even a Hygiene Theory that attributes the rise of food allergies to changes in our environment and society  (cleaner water, cleaner dishes, the emphasis on hand sanitizer, antibiotics ) have resulted in changes in our immune systems. But the truth is, there is no scientific or medical conclusion as to why food allergies exist and why the number is rising (approximately 50 percent increase between 1997 and 2011).

Well now we’ve got some of the world’s most brilliant minds on the case.

Researchers from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, its partner institutions and Yale School of Medicine are launching an initiative to tackle the science of food allergies.

According to a Broad Institute news release on Wednesday, the Food Allergy Science Initiative (FASI) “aims to accelerate the pace of discovery in this field and enable the development of new diagnostics and treatments through a coordinated effort that brings together specialists from a variety of disciplines including immunology, gastroenterology, computational biology, molecular biology, and bioengineering to answer fundamental questions pertaining to food allergy.”

In Layman’s terms, I could actually potentially maybe have a shot at being able to eat a slice of cheese pizza in my lifetime. Now I’m a pretty cynical person when it comes to food allergies, but I can’t help the pep in my step after learning just who is involved in this crusade.

Current participants include researchers from Yale School of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), Harvard Medical School (HMS), Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), and MIT, in addition to the Broad. Along with Medzhitov and Regev, FASI’s scientific leadership includes Vijay Kuchroo (Broad, HMS, BWH); J. Christopher Love (Broad, MIT); Wayne Shreffler (MGH, HMS); and Ramnik Xavier (Broad, MGH, MIT, HMS).

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What’s equally, if not more, impressive is how FASI came to beLesley Solomon had to take her 6-year-old son to the hospital when he suffered an anaphylactic reaction during a food challenge in his doctor’s office. Not long after the terrifying incident, Lesley took action and found three other food allergy moms to raise $10 million for the seed funding of FASI. (And here I am just composing weekly rants on the subject.)

You can bet your ass I’ll be keeping a sharp eye out for any breakthroughs and updates!

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What’s So Scary About Food Allergies?

If you ask Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), a food allergy is a serious medical condition. A food allergy is also considered a disability under federal laws, such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

It is not to be confused with a food sensitivity or intolerance (both refer to digestive problems after eating a certain food). Unlike food allergies, food intolerances do not involve the immune system.

Food allergies are IgE mediated, meaning that the immune system produces excessive amounts of an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE for short). These IgE antibodies fight the “enemy” food allergens by releasing histamine and other chemicals, which trigger the symptoms, including anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a type of reaction involving difficulty breathing, reduced blood pressure, vomiting, diarrhea, and, ultimately, throat closing, which could lead to death if not immediately treated with epinephrine.

Delays in getting this medicine can result in death in as little as 30 minuets. More so, up to 20% of patients have a second wave of symptoms hours or even days after their initial symptoms (this is called biphasic anaphylaxis).

Contrary to popular belief, the EpiPen is not meant for one-time use or to stop a reaction on its own. If an EpiPen is needed, you must call 911 to get further care. Sometimes, even two injections of an EpiPen are needed (which means people with food allergies should carry two EpiPens at all times).

There is no cure for food allergies, and the number of people with food allergies is seriously growing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies among children increased about 50% from 1997 to 2011. There is no clear answer why.

For now, the best that people with food allergies can do is to avoid their allergens at all costs.

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