On the hunt: NIH grants millions to advance food allergy research

One in every 13 children across the country has a food allergy, or, roughly two in every classroom. Thanks to a $42.7 million investment from the National Institutes of Health, researchers from UNC Children’s and six other leading food allergy institutions will continue to work together to reduce the prevalence of and treat food allergies.

On the hunt: NIH grants millions to advance food allergy research click to enlarge Researchers at work in the UNC Food Allergy Initiative lab.

One in every 13 children across the country has a food allergy, or, roughly two in every classroom. In total, it’s estimated that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) aims to help treat and reduce the prevalence of food allergies through the Consortium of Food Allergy Research, (CoFAR), which includes researchers from UNC Children’s.

The NIH recently announced it has awarded $42.7 million over seven years to CoFAR, a newly expanded group of seven leading food allergy institutions led by UNC and Johns Hopkins. In a time of budget uncertainty, this commitment allows CoFAR to continue to be on the front line of investigating new approaches to manage, treat and potentially prevent food allergies.

“This is a tremendous step forward for CoFAR and our work to better understand the growing prevalence of food allergies and potential treatment and prevention,” says Wesley Burks, MD, a founding member of the CoFAR group. “We are thrilled with the NIH’s decision to provide further funding to continue this important work.”

Edwin Kim, MD, MS, director of the UNC Food Allergy Initiative, says the major goals of the CoFAR group are two-fold.

“First and foremost, we’re committed to developing novel treatment strategies for people who have already been diagnosed with food allergy,” Dr. Kim says. “However, it is equally important that we better understand why food allergy occurs and possibly prevent it in the first place.”

CoFAR was established in 2005 with a mission of understanding of the pathophysiology of food allergies and translating these findings into new options for identification and treatment of susceptible individuals. UNC, through Dr. Burks, was a founding member of the group when it began and has since seen success in developing multiple immunotherapy approaches to treat food allergy. Immunotherapy involves exposing the immune system to an allergen in a controlled way to eventually reduce immediate allergic symptoms and bring about long-term relief.

“As a group, we’ve been looking at many ways of approaching immunotherapy including oral immunotherapy, sublingual immunotherapy and most recently epicutaneous immunotherapy.” Dr. Kim says. “The NIH grant ensures that this important work can continue to advance the field over the next seven years towards our ultimate goal of a cure.”

Earlier this year, the American Academy of Pediatrics endorsed new NIH guidelines recommending early introduction to peanuts for infants who are considered higher risk for developing the allergy. Dr. Kim says this is a tremendous step in the right direction for future research in food allergy.

“It’s exciting to see the momentum from pediatricians and the general public around this, and as leaders of the group, we’re really looking forward to using this opportunity to not only advance our research but also to educate the public and to continue to bring awareness to food allergy.” Dr. Kim says.

Leading the CoFAR is Robert A. Wood, MD, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, with A. Wesley Burks, MD, of the UNC School of Medicine, Chapel Hill, and Marsha Wills-Karp, Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. 

The locations and principal investigators of the seven CoFAR clinical sites are:

  • Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (Robert A. Wood, MD)
  • Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston (Wayne G. Shreffler, M.D., Ph.D.)
  • Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York (Scott H. Sicherer, MD)
  • National Jewish Health, Denver (Donald Y.M. Leung, M.D., Ph.D.)
  • Stanford University, Stanford, California (R. Sharon Chinthrajah, MD)
  • University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock (Stacie M. Jones, MD)
  • University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (A. Wesley Burks, MD)



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