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18 January 2021

Researchers awarded grant to innovate improvements in food allergy testing

The grant will support research into food allergy biomarkers to identify new avenues for diagnosing, monitoring, and treating patients.

food allergy

A team of researchers, led by Dr Alexandra Santos from the School of Life Course Sciences and the School of Immunology & Microbial Sciences, have received a prestigious $500,000 research award to undertake a 3-year multicentre randomised control trial, co-sponsored by Food Allergy Research & Education and Janssen Pharmaceuticals.

I was delighted to receive this award and grateful to FARE for the opportunity. I am very excited to start this multicentre biomarker-led randomised-controlled trial with colleagues across the UK, aiming to assess the impact of the two new tests we have been researching, the basophil activation test (BAT) and the mast cell activation test (MAT), on the care for children with suspected food allergies.

Dr Alexandra Santos, Reader in Paediatric Allergy, School of Life Course Sciences and School of Immunology & Microbial Sciences

Those living with food allergy are at risk of anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. While there is ongoing research to find better treatments to reduce food allergy symptoms and prevent these attacks, there is presently no cure for the disease.

The proposal submitted by Dr Santos will innovate improvements in food allergy testing and diagnosis. The skin prick tests and antibody-based blood tests most commonly used often fail to provide a definitive diagnosis. Avoiding possible problem foods based on ambiguous test results can unnecessarily limit dietary options, impair nutrition, and impose psychological burdens of stress and anxiety.

To resolve these equivocal results, the current gold-standard test is the oral food challenge, in which patients eat increasing amounts of their possible food allergen under medical supervision and are monitored for reaction symptoms. However, this type of test involves hours of observation and can result in severe symptoms that require emergency care and hospitalisation.

Dr Santos’ group seeks to demonstrate that tests based on basophils and mast cells – two types of cells that participate in allergic reactions – can provide definitive diagnoses for most patients with inconclusive skin prick or antibody-based blood tests, thereby limiting the need for oral food challenges. In depth investigations into food allergy biomarkers also hold promise for predicting the severity of the reactions, which would assist care providers in identifying patients at greatest risk during an oral food challenge.

Oral food challenge is the gold-standard to diagnose food allergy and is important that we can continue to offer them to patients. With the new tests we have developed, the BAT and the MAT, we can identify children who are likely to react and dispense them from undergoing challenges, making the diagnostic work up for food allergy at the same time accurate and safe for patients and families.

Dr Alexandra Santos, Reader in Paediatric Allergy, School of Life Course Sciences and School of Immunology & Microbial Sciences

About FARE and Janssen Pharmaceuticals

FARE is a world leading non-governmental organisation engaged in food allergy advocacy and is the largest private funder of food allergy research. Their mission is to improve the quality of life and the health of individuals with food allergies, and to provide hope through the promise of new treatments.

The $250,000 contributed by FARE to fund the Biomarker Research Grant was generously matched by Janssen’s World Without Disease Accelerator, a group focussed on advancing disease prevention, interception and cure solutions.

In this story

Alexandra  Santos

Clinical Professor of Paediatric Food Allergy