Newsletter — January 2022
We can’t wait for the year to come.
Since becoming an independent organization in 2021, FASI has had a tremendous impact funding truly collaborative and exciting work. We’re currently engaged with 11 different institutions representing 27 projects across a wide spectrum of food allergy research.
And we couldn’t have done it without you.
With your help, FASI is now at the forefront of innovative research to find a cure for over 85 million Americans suffering from food allergies and intolerances. And as we look ahead, there are two big questions guiding our work.
The first, quite simply, is how do people become allergic? And the second is understanding the hyper-reactivity of allergic patients. All healthy humans have allergic defenses, but why do only a subset exhibit pathological hyper-sensitivity? Understanding the “how” will help prevent allergic diseases while understanding the “why” will help cure established allergies.
Imagine that. A cure for allergies.
We are so appreciative of your support and belief in what we are doing as an organization. We just can’t thank you enough.
With warm regards,
Save the Date
FASI Annual Symposium
June 3, 2022
ADVANCES IN MUCOSAL IMMUNITY
Please join us at our next annual symposium to discuss innovative advancements in mucosal immunity. We’ll be gathering in person at the Broad Institute and virtually via Zoom.
To register, click here.
Building a Dream Team
To say Dr. Stephanie Eisenbarth is busy is an understatement. Most recently she was an Associate Professor of Laboratory Medicine, Immunobiology, and Immunology; an Associate Chair of Research in Laboratory Medicine; and Assistant Director of the Clinical Pathology Residency Program at Yale School of Medicine. As of January 1st, 2022, Dr. Eisenbarth has started a new role as Chief of Allergy and Director of a new Immunology center at Northwestern University.
In addition to those roles, Stephanie’s primary research focuses on regulating antibody responses. Or in reality, inappropriate responses. Her lab discovered a new type of T cell that could have important implications for altering and tracking those inappropriate immune responses to food allergens.
At FASI, Dr. Eisenbarth’s lab is investigating the role of gut antibodies in food allergies. Her lab is using both human samples and mouse models to understand the dynamics of how the body responds to what it interprets as a threat to itself. The lab is studying the link between how a body innately responds and how it adapts in often negative ways. The results could inform new therapeutic and diagnostic strategies for food allergies of all kinds.
Dr. Esther Borges Florsheim is an Assistant Professor in the Biodesign Center for Immunotherapy, Vaccines and Virotherapy at Arizona State University. Her research efforts focus on understanding how the immune system affects and can alter normal physiology and behaviors. She has a particular interest in mast cell biology (the cells responsible for allergic reactions) and neuroimmune pathways that connect the nervous and immune systems.
Dr. Florsheim was once a grad student at Yale studying food allergies under our own Ruslan Medzhitov. Now at FASI, her research looks at unique models to study interactions and identify drivers of allergic inflammation in the gut. It’s a multidisciplinary approach that combines the fields of physiology, behavior, neuroscience and immunology.
Dr. Jing-Ke Weng is an associate professor of biology at MIT and a member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research. Dr. Weng is studying the origin and evolution of plant metabolism and how plants use specific chemicals to interact with their surrounding environments. Understanding the basis of traditional herbal medicines can lead to developing new nature-inspired medicines to fight human disease.
Dr. Weng’s work at FASI focuses on how certain chemicals in our diet are detected in the human digestive system and how they influence metabolism and immune responses.
$6890741 FASI awarded a total of $6,890,741 in grants and gifts
11 Different research institutions
Game Changing Discoveries
Chief, Pediatric Allergy & Immunology
Massachusetts General Hospital
Wayne Shreffler, MD, Ph.D., is a physician-scientist who treats patients with allergic disorders. When Dr. Shreffler isn’t in the clinic, he is pioneering research in food allergies, including eosinophilic esophagitis. EoE is a chronic disease caused by inflammation in the esophagus. It can lead to daily problems like difficulty swallowing, pain, scarring and narrowing of the tube.
What causes EoE to develop is still unknown. However, chronic inflammation is often driven by exposure to specific food allergens – usually dairy, eggs and wheat. Identifying those specific allergens is a burdensome process involving cycles of elimination diets followed by a procedure to sample tissue from the esophagus. Due to this burden, patients will manage with chronic medications instead (though it’s not always successful).
Dr. Shreffler and his colleagues – including FASI scientists Dr. Christopher Love, Ph.D., and Dr. Qian Yuan, MD – are hoping to change the way EoE is diagnosed and treated. The team recently published a landmark paper in the journal Science Immunology that implicates specific pathways allergen immune cells may use to find their way to the esophagus. This discovery has potential to become a new form of treatment. And because the cells can be detected in blood, it also opens up the potential to dramatically reduce the need for repeated endoscopies.
We asked Dr. Shreffler what his new findings mean for people living with EoE.
EoE is an allergic condition characterized by chronic, often painful inflammation of the esophagus. It affects more than 180,000 people in the US. We know that EoE can be triggered by exposure to specific foods. It is also a common side effect of the oral immunotherapy (OIT) treatment of patients with immediate food allergies, affecting about 1 in 20 patients who try OIT. Unfortunately, the treatment options aren’t that great — the best approaches are food avoidance and/or steroid treatment to dampen the immune response.
A big challenge is that regular endoscopies and biopsies are essential for diagnosing and monitoring the disease. These are relatively invasive and require a trip to the operating suite. And once diagnosed, it doesn’t solve the problem as treatment options are limited. For patients that wish to treat by allergen avoidance rather than chronic medications, this is a repeated process of trial and error. Understanding the biology of what drives the immune system to attack the esophagus is a critical question that we seek to understand.
This study would not have been possible even five years ago. Recently, Dr. Chris Love and colleagues at MIT developed a platform for high-throughput single-cell RNA sequencing that is particularly well suited to studying EoE. This technology allowed us to sample tissue from the esophagus and blood and identify the immune cells causing the inflammation. This led our team to discover a role for a molecule called GPR15, expressed on a very specific allergy inflammation driving subset of T-cells, which they use to travel to the esophagus and cause inflammation.
What was also exciting to find is that this rare subset of GPR15+ cells is detectable in the blood. We found that these GPR15+ cells in both the blood and esophagus in some cases shared the same T cell receptor – the feature that determines whether a T cell recognizes a milk allergen, or an egg allergen, or something entirely different. We can rapidly exploit this information to develop new non-invasive ways to diagnose and manage patients, and in the future it may help us identify the allergen that is driving disease – currently the only way to do this is to monitor patients as they adhere to strict avoidance diets until the specific allergen is identified.
Finally, our team has separately identified GPR15 expression as a predictor of poor responses to oral immunotherapy (OIT) in food allergy. Currently, there is no way to determine if one food allergic patient will tolerate OIT. This would help us identify which patients are good candidates.
Our findings represent a significant step forward in understanding the biology behind EoE. This is the sort of research that FASI is uniquely situated to support. We are expanding the scope of our initial study to evaluate a larger population. We’re now recruiting additional patients and securing funding to propel the next wave of discoveries. This study is a perfect example of why partnering with multiple collaborators from different scientific disciplines can drive innovation, making discoveries faster.
If you would like to learn more about this research or fund the clinical trial, please send us an email at email@example.com.
“Every day she goes to school, I don’t know if that’s going to be her last day.”
– Ning Drako, FASI Donor and Supporter
Ning’s daughter has severe food allergies – dairy, nuts, shellfish, sesame, sunflower, poppy, and mustard. She can’t even step inside a Starbucks without her throat tightening. EpiPens are always by her side. Once, even the use of two EpiPens was barely enough to keep her alive. To say food allergies have affected her family’s life is a major understatement.
“We can’t do things that normal families can. Events and celebrations are a challenge. It’s not worth dragging kids to a party knowing they can’t eat anything or that the presence of some food might cause an anaphylactic reaction. Meet friends for dinner at a restaurant? Sleepovers? Too risky most of the time. People can disagree on how to handle things and many families are afraid to socialize with us. The child feels isolated and ashamed. This way of life causes stress that tears friends and families apart.”
Ning’s personal journey eventually led her to FASI, where she is now an active and ardent supporter. “The way to solve hard problems, like food allergies, is to get really smart people to collaborate, whatever their training and expertise. And that’s what FASI is doing. It’s not siloed. It’s an independent entity which brings together researchers from different disciplines such as immunology, pediatrics, and engineering, each of whom has a unique perspective – and may approach the same problem differently than others. This is how we’re going to make a difference in food allergies – not by thinking about the solution in a singular way, but by tackling this life-threatening and universal dilemma in collaborative and unconventional ways.”
It is not just individual families who are touched by food allergies. Ning was quick to point out that it not only takes a village, it affects the village. “We’re not just finding a cure for my child. We’re helping entire communities. Someday we won’t need a nut policy in schools or on airplanes. Restaurants and public venues won’t pose such a threat. Today, what you and I do can mean life or death for a child with severe food allergies. We need to do something about this now or we will never make progress towards a cure.”
She then pauses for a moment as she considers the alternative.
“How can we not even try?”