Packard Children’s immunologist searches for a treatment for children’s food allergies


Food allergies affect one in every 13 American kids, yet when a child is diagnosed, modern medicine can’t do much to help. As parents of newly diagnosed kids quickly learn, the standard advice is to avoid allergy triggers completely, since that’s the only surefire way to prevent life-threatening episodes of anaphylactic shock. Many of the common allergy triggers – such as wheat, cow’s milk, soy, eggs and peanuts – are so ubiquitous that avoidance becomes a herculean task. Families have to be extra-cautious about everything from restaurant meals and school events to birthday parties and sleepovers at friends’ homes. In addition to the stress they cause for affected families, food allergies take a big medical toll. They’re responsible for 90,000 episodes of anaphylactic shock each year and 2,000 hospitalizations.

It’s hard enough if your child is allergic to just one food. But a growing number of children have severe allergies to multiple foods. Fortunately, a scientist at the Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital is working to help these kids. Building on a body of work – her own and others’ – demonstrating that it’s possible to safely desensitize children to a single food allergen, Kari Nadeau, MD, PhD, is now trying to find treatments that will address multiple food allergies simultaneously. Her quest is described in a new feature in this week’s New York Times Magazine:

Could patients be desensitized to more than one allergen at a time? No one had ever tried it, but more than a third of children with food allergies are allergic to more than one food. If it was safe to give patients
x milligrams of one allergen, would it be safe to give them one-fifth of x milligrams of five different allergens, as long as the total dose remained the same? That would assume that allergens function in a linear, additive fashion — rather than a multiplicative one; it was also possible that they could interact with one another to produce a more severe reaction.

The entire story is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the science of immunology. It also gives a window into the combination of warm bedside manner and steely scientific resolve that makes Nadeau beloved among the patients and families in her clinical trials. And, best of all, the story describes work that could someday help children overcome their food allergies not just here at Packard Children’s but also across the country.


One Response to “Packard Children’s immunologist searches for a treatment for children’s food allergies”

  1. Angie Murray

    Hello, I was wondering how can I get more information about this. I have a 9 year old son who is allergic to any tree nuts ,peanuts, shell fish some fish and sometimes red meats and fruits that cause hives and throat irritation. He would love to fix some of these if there was a chance. Thank you


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