Twelve investigators have received grants totaling $5 million over two years to lead high-impact, innovative studies of food allergy, a significant public health concern. This program, called Exploratory Investigations in Food Allergy, is funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, and two advocacy groups, the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) and the Food Allergy Project (FAP). The initiative will support research on the factors that contribute to the development of food allergy, the relationship between other immune system disorders and food allergy, and the epidemiology and genetics of food allergy. An additional program goal is to encourage investigators who have not previously been funded for studies of food allergy to move into the field of food allergy research.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also plans to make four separate awards totaling $1 million per year under this research initiative. EPA will make a separate announcement of its awards.
"Little is known about why only some people develop food allergy, and finding answers to that fundamental question is one of the key objectives of this initiative," says NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., whose institute is contributing $2 million toward the grants. "We anticipate that this program will spark new ideas and research in the field, and we look forward to seeing progress in research that ultimately ends the limitations that food allergy places on the lives of so many children and adults."
In the United States, approximately 6 percent to 8 percent of children under age 4, and 4 percent of persons age 5 and older have an allergy to one or more foods. In a two-year period, about half of all children with a food allergy will have an allergic reaction from an accidental exposure to that food. Severe cases can result in life-threatening anaphylaxis, a condition characterized by a drop in blood pressure and difficulty breathing. Approximately 30,000 cases of food-induced anaphylaxis and as many as 150 food anaphylaxis-associated deaths occur in the United States each year. Most of these deaths occur in adolescents and young adults.
The establishment of the Exploratory Investigations in Food Allergy program emphasizes the emergence of food allergy as a significant public health concern and addresses recommendations made by the NIH Expert Panel on Food Allergy Research, held in March 2006 (http://www3.niaid.nih.gov/topics/foodAllergy/research/ReportFoodAllergy.htm).
Projects will address key questions aimed at improving treatment and preventing food allergy, including 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. Other projects will help define the genetics of human food allergy and the role of interactions between genes and the environment in food allergy pathogenesis.
The 12 investigators supported by the NIAID, FAAN and FAP are as follows:
The Exploratory Investigations in Food Allergy Program builds on NIAID's increasing effort to support food allergy research. Since fiscal year 2003, NIAID has increased its food allergy research spending from $1.2 million to an estimated $13.4 million in fiscal year 2008. For more on NIAID Food Allergy Research see http://www3.niaid.nih.gov/topics/foodAllergy/default.htm.
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NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases