By Wendy S. Meyer
Food allergies are a huge problem. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that eight percent of all children (nearly six million), have some form of food allergy. Allergic reactions to foods can be life threatening, and they can have a significant harmful effect on the quality of life for patients and their families. Researchers across the globe are grappling with this problem, and CCTSI Nutrition Services right here on the Anschutz Medical Campus is at the nexus of much of this activity.
David Fleischer, MD, is the principal investigator of multiple studies investigating food allergy, including peanut, soy, milk and wheat. An internationally renowned food allergy specialist, Fleischer was part of a team of 25 experts that developed and released new NIAID-sponsored guidelines
earlier this year that recommended a new approach to prevent peanut allergies in children.
“With families that have a food-allergic child, you can imagine your child may be constantly exposed to foods that could cause an allergic reaction. We are looking into not just treatments but also trying to prevent them from developing,” says Fleischer.
At the Pediatric Clinical and Translational Research Center (CTRC), Fleischer relies heavily on CCTSI Nutrition Services, calling
them key members of his team. They are helping to implement the double-blind, placebo-controlled food challenges (DBPCFC) that are used in many of his studies. (In fact, seven trials are currently underway right now—some of them industry sponsored, some not.)
“We have a pretty unique, large study team and a large food challenge and research unit,” says Hannah Gilbert, MS, research manager in Children’s Research Institute, Allergy and Immunology Section. Gilbert says that often the goal is not to cure a child’s allergy but to make it safer if the child were to have an accidental exposure. “One of our studies involves a
CCTSI Nutrition Services Team
unique mode of delivering food immunotherapy through the skin. The goal is to desensitize these children to the allergen, so that after a certain time of doing immunotherapy, they would have a lesser reaction or no reaction at all,” she says.
Gilbert says the DBPCFCs are the true gold standard to test whether a person is truly allergic to a food; skin or blood tests can yield false positives. Many of the food allergy studies in the pediatric CTRC involve this DBPCFC. “The nutrition team helps prepare whatever formula or substance that the subjects are ingesting in gradually increased doses,” says Gilbert. “We are blinded—the PI and the study team—the only people in the hospital who know is the CTRC nutrition team. That eliminates bias, because if you know you are ingesting something you think you are allergic to, that could influence your reaction.”
For the industry-sponsored studies in particular, it takes someone with exacting attention to detail to mix the many formulas and make sure the amounts of all of the ingredients are precise so the data are correct. “We couldn’t do it without Nutrition Services,” says Gilbert.
Fleischer says that though doctors will never be able to treat or prevent all food allergy, his team’s goal is to help children with food allergies better cope and thrive: “We want to help improve the day-to-day lives of families and kids affected by food allergy.”