FARE Co-Sponsored $500,000 Research Grant Awarded to Dr. Alexandra Santos of King’s College London
Co-sponsored research award supported by Janssen to fund validation of basophil activation and mast cell activation as biomarkers to diagnose and monitor food allergies
McLean, Va. (January 5, 2021) – Today, FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education), the world’s largest private funder of food allergy research, announced the awarding of a $500,000 grant to Alexandra Santos, MD, PhD, for her proposal entitled “Clinical Validation of the Basophil and Mast Cell Activation Tests as Food Allergy Biomarkers.” The competitive Biomarker Research Grant, co-sponsored by Janssen’s World Without Disease Accelerator*, was established to investigate the biology of food allergy and accelerate the development of biomarker-based clinical decision-making tools.
Thirty-two million Americans living with food allergy are at risk for anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Food allergy has become more prevalent in recent decades, with procedures to treat serious allergic reactions to food up nearly 400 percent between 2007 and 2016. There is presently no cure for the disease. While more than 14 million Americans have multiple food allergies, and allergies to more than 170 foods have been reported, the only treatment approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is specific for peanut allergy. Food allergy biomarkers – measurable molecular signatures that can distinguish food-allergic and food-tolerant individuals – can improve clinical care and advance research to arrest the rise in food allergy and identify new avenues for diagnosing and treating all food allergy patients.
The proposal submitted by Dr. Santos will innovate improvements in food allergy testing. The skin prick tests and antibody-based blood tests most commonly used to diagnose food allergy 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 equivocal skin prick test and blood test results, the current gold-standard test is the oral food challenge, in which the patient eats increasing amounts of their possible food allergen under medical supervision and is monitored for reaction symptoms. Dr. Santos will lead this research with the Santos Lab at King's College London.
For patients and their families, knowing that an oral food challenge can result in severe symptoms requiring emergency care or hospitalization is highly stressful. Oral food challenges also involve hours of monitoring by trained care providers, which limits access and increases costs. Dr. Santos’ proposal 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 tests or food-specific antibody tests, thereby limiting the need for oral food challenges. Basophil activation and mast cell activation tests also hold promise for predicting the severity of food allergy reaction symptoms, helping care providers identify which patients would be placed at greatest risk during an oral food challenge.
“We were fortunate to receive so many excellent applications for the Biomarker Research Grant,” notes Bruce Roberts, PhD, FARE’s Chief Research, Innovation and Science Officer. “The proposal submitted by Dr. Santos is exceptional in terms of the progress she has made to date and the feasibility of developing these technologies further toward clinical validation, commercialization, and clinic use. Her team has a great track record, and we are confident in this opportunity to improve decision-making tools for care providers and quality of life for food allergy patients.”
The $250,000 contributed by FARE to fund the Biomarker Research Grant was generously matched by Janssen’s World Without Disease Accelerator, a group focused on advancing disease prevention, interception and cure solutions. The international grant competition was announced in January 2020.
To learn more about food allergy diagnosis and testing, visit foodallergy.org/diagnosis.
*The legal entity for the sponsorship agreement with FARE is Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
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FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) is the world’s leading non-governmental organization engaged in food allergy advocacy and the largest private funder of food allergy research. Our mission is to improve the quality of life and the health of individuals with food allergies, and to provide them hope through the promise of new treatments. FARE is transforming the future of food allergy through innovative initiatives that will lead to increased awareness, new and improved treatments and prevention strategies, effective policies and legislation and novel approaches to managing the disease. To learn more about FARE, visit our Living Teal™ YouTube channel, or www.foodallergy.org.