Our Unique Focus > Food Allergies
Though rarely studied in the context of digestive disease, food allergies are an essential piece of this larger puzzle. In 2009, the University partnered with the Food Allergy Initiative, inviting food allergy expert Dr. Cathryn Nagler to lead an investigation into the role microbiomes play in regulating susceptibility to food allergies.
Framing the Problem
The prevalence of food allergy is rising. Recent CDC reports show a 20% increase in reported cases over the last decade. Of these cases, 90% are attributable to just eight major types of food: milk, eggs, soybeans, wheat, fish, shellfish, peanuts, and tree nuts. Food allergy is clinically linked to other allergic diseases, including asthma. No treatment other than strict avoidance of potential allergens is currently available, making allergic reactions to food a particular problem in school settings. While the causes of this increasing incidence remain unknown, many cite environmental factors, particularly at the microbial level.
Animal model work from the Nagler lab suggests that signals from a particular population of gut bacteria play a key role in regulating both allergic responses to food and uncontrolled inflammatory responses to resident bacteria. Ongoing work in the Nagler laboratory examines how environmental stimuli—diet, antibiotics, pathogenic bacteria, intestinal worms—alter the gut microenvironment to influence susceptibility to food allergy in a murine model. Future studies will examine how the microbiome influences food allergies in humans. Insight into the molecular basis for these interactions may suggest new avenues for disease prevention and treatment.
For more information on food allergies, visit the Food Allergy Initiative: www.faiusa.org