“Our vision is to prevent and cure allergies and asthma,” says Kari C. Nadeau, M.D., Ph.D.director of the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy and Asthma Research at Stanford University and Naddisy Foundation Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics, Pulmonary Critical Care Division. “We do it through innovative science and compassionate care.”
Dr. Kari Nadeau and her team are studying the immune system and the immune dysfunctions causing allergic reactions.The center works collaboratively with other researchers around the world, sharing data via interlinked satellite centers and running innovative allergy research clinical trials in.
Currently they’re focused on food allergy research, including immunotherapy —activating or suppressing the immune system —to help patients achieve desensitization and eventual tolerance to food allergens; developing better and safer tools for diagnosing allergies; and examining immune cells of twins, where one twin has an allergy and the other doesn’t, helping researchers better understand epigenetic factors.
“One in 3 people in the world has allergies. Most of those allergies are to the environment like pollen, animals, and insects,”says Dr. Nadeau, noting researchers are curious why the other two-thirds of the population don’t have allergies.
When you have an allergy, your immune system overreacts and produces Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies that cause an allergic reaction, including symptoms like hives, itchy eyes, sneezing, and wheezing.
“Reactions are serious,” she says. “They can occur very fast.”
She says many allergies are triggered when they come in contact with the skin. The mantra is, “Through the skin, allergies could begin. Through the diet, allergies can stay quiet.”
Most food allergies are caused by eight foods: milk, soy, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and crustacean shellfish.
“It’s a really exciting time to be an allergist because [there are] new ideas, new therapies, and novel treatments to make existing therapies safer and more efficacious.”says Sharon Chinthrajah, M.D., associate professor, and director of the clinical translational research unit at the center.
Dr. Chinthrajah says studies show it’s important to get accustomed to foods early in life.
“Introducing diverse foods into the diet between ages 4-11 months in babies, who might be at a higher risk of having food allergies, actually prevented the development of food allergies,” she says.
Nadeau advises pregnant women eat what they want. “It’s really important for pregnant moms to eat a diverse diet and get enough vitamin D”.
She also recommends eating a very high fiber diet with active culture yogurt or fermented foods to “enable good guts,” noting, “it doesn’t say for sure that you’ll be protected, but it’s usually helpful rather than harmful.”
Treatment and prevention
Stanford researchers are also studying asthma and its triggers so they can have the appropriate medications on hand to treat it. Dr. Chinthrajah says 80 or 90 percent of asthma in children is allergic asthma likely due to pollen, affecting their sinuses and lower airways, which can cause asthma flaring.
They’re optimistic about treating and preventing allergies too.
“The earlier you deal with it, the better your outcome might be,” says Sayantani “Tina” B. Sindher, M.D., assistant professor of allergy and immunology at the center.
The preferred treatment for food allergies has been avoidance, but that’s changing.
Current treatments include allergy shots; drops under the tongue and drugs that block the allergy pathways; and sublingual immunotherapy—measuring out small amounts of the food the person is allergic to and increasing the amount that the patient ingests over time. Another option is patch therapy, where patients wear a patch containing the protein they’re allergic to.
“Don’t panic,” advises Sindher, recommending patients and families get informed and work with their doctors and allergists.
“Partner with your physician team and work together.”
Kristen Castillo, [email protected]