|Statement of Daniel Rotrosen,
M.D., Director, Division of Allergy, Immunology and Transplantation,
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and
Anthony S. Fauci, M.D.,
Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on
Raising Awareness to the Personal and Research Challenges of Food
May 11-17 marks the 11th Annual Food Allergy Awareness Week, a
time set aside to increase the public's awareness of food allergies
and the potential challenges they pose. In an average week in the
United States, two or three otherwise healthy Americans will lose
their lives due to allergic reactions to foods. Approximately 6
to 8 percent of children under age 4 and nearly 4 percent of persons
age 5 and older have a food allergy.
Aside from their immediate and sometimes life-threatening consequences,
food allergies affect an individualís health, nutrition, development
and quality of life. These burdens disproportionately affect children.
For children and their families, severe food allergies are accompanied
by the fear of future serious reactions and the stigma of avoiding
common foods, particularly in school lunchrooms and other social
settings, where others too often do not understand the seriousness
of the allergy.
Allergic reactions to foods occur when the immune system over-reacts
to food proteins, setting off a cascade of events that can range
from itchy hives to difficulty breathing, cardiovascular collapse
and a systemic, life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis.
Approximately 30,000 cases of food-induced anaphylaxis occur in
the United States each year, leading to as many as 200 deaths.
Even with assiduous avoidance of known food allergens, each year,
approximately one of every four food allergic individuals will
have an accidental exposure that leads to a food-induced reaction.
Currently, the only treatments for food allergy are allergen avoidance
and management of reactions caused by allergen exposure.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID),
part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is the nationís
principal supporter of food allergy research. NIAIDís broad support
of basic research in allergy and immunology provides an increasingly
better understanding of the immune system and how, in certain people,
foods trigger an allergic reaction. NIAID also supports clinical
trials that are attempting to alter the bodyís immune system so
that it no longer triggers allergic reactions. Working with young
children who are at high risk of developing food allergies, NIAID-supported
scientists and doctors are exploring new immune-based approaches
to prevent the development of food allergies.
Little is known about why only some people develop food allergies.
Research may provide insight into the genesis of food allergy and
suggest approaches that may prevent children from developing allergies
to certain foods. For example, the NIAID-supported Consortium of
Food Allergy Research is conducting an observational study that
has enrolled more than 400 infants who have allergies to milk or
eggs. Most will lose their allergies to milk and eggs within a
few years, but some will develop allergy to peanuts. The study
will follow the children for at least five years and study immunologic
changes that accompany either the loss of allergy to foods or the
development of allergy to peanuts. Another study, the Urban Environmental
Factors and Childhood Asthma Study, a project of the NIAID Inner
City Asthma Consortium, is an observational study monitoring a
cohort of children from birth for a number of factors, including
the appearance of specific antibodies to foods. This study will
provide data to address the relationship between asthma and food
allergy. In addition, the NIAID Immune Tolerance Network is conducting
a trial to determine whether feeding a peanut-containing snack
to young children at risk of developing peanut allergy will prevent
Although much is being done to address the problem of food allergy,
many challenges remain. One of our greatest challenges in food
allergy research is engaging new and established scientists to
work in this area. NIAID is particularly pleased to announce that
this week nearly a dozen awards will be made to investigators in
a new program that will recruit new food allergy researchers and
attract established researchers in other disciplines to bring fresh
perspectives to the field. All of the NIAID awardees in this program
will be new food allergy researchers, and one-third are first-time
NIH grant recipients.
NIAID also is working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
to address challenges involved in food allergy clinical research
to ensure safe, effective and ethical designs for these clinical
trials, many of which need to be conducted in young children and
infants. NIAID is working with more than 20 institutes and centers
at NIH, other federal agencies, professional societies and patient
advocacy groups to develop comprehensive clinical guidelines for
the diagnosis and treatment of food allergies. These guidelines
will provide direction to clinicians, families, and patients for
diagnosing and managing food allergies. In July NIAID will convene
a coordinating committee to oversee this multistep effort.
Much progress has been made in the scientific understanding of
food allergies and in the publicís awareness of how to manage them.
But for millions of individuals, especially children, food allergies
continue to limit their activities and threaten their health and
lives. As we observe Food Allergy Awareness Week, we need to redouble
our efforts to understand food allergies and reduce the limitations
and suffering they impose on people who have them.
Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., is director of the National Institute
of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes
of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Daniel Rotrosen, M.D., is director
of the Division of Allergy, Immunology and Transplantation at
Media inquiries can be directed to the NIAID Office of Communications
at 301-402-1663, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Press releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials
are available on the NIAID Web site at http://www.niaid.nih.gov.
NIAID is a component of the National Institutes of Health. NIAID
supports basic and applied research to prevent, diagnose and treat
infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted
infections, influenza, tuberculosis, malaria and illness from potential
agents of bioterrorism. NIAID also supports research on basic immunology,
transplantation and immune-related disorders, including autoimmune
diseases, asthma and allergies.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's
Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and
Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting
and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research,
and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both
common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and
its programs, visit www.nih.gov.
Note: On May 13, 2008 this release was changed to exclude the phrase
"and nearly 5,000 will be hospitalized" from the initial paragraph.