Food allergies affect around 2 per cent of adults in the UK and between 5 and 8 per cent of children. The major allergens are peanuts, nuts, eggs, crustaceans, sesame seeds, cereals containing gluten, soya, celery, mustard, sulphur dioxide and sulphites. Sufferers’ symptoms can vary wildly, but they can lead to anaphylaxis and sometimes death.
Allergy sufferers carefully manage their diets to avoid the foods that give rise to a reaction. In recent years this had led to an expansion in the range of food products formulated without major allergens, but a number of issues remain for industry.
These include ensuring products still have good sensory properties, and determining threshold levels below which foods may be labelled as ‘allergen-free’.
Most types of food allergy are associated with the IgE antibody. However the Food Standards Agency and the Medical Research Council say it is becoming clear that there are complex immunoregulatory mechanisms at play.
They believe there is scope for more investigation into immunological parameters other than IgE antibody; what factors are responsible for the different severities of allergies between individuals; how and why the timing and route of exposure to allergens impacts allergic sensitisation; what immunological bases are for apparent tissue differences in immune and allergic responses to food proteins; and what factors give food proteins the ability to cause allergic sensitisation.
The call for research follows a joint FSA and MRC workshop held in March 2010, at which the two bodies recognised a close alignment in their interest in funding research to improve understanding of immunobiological processes.
They expect that identification of risk factors and people who are more susceptible to allergies will help inform public health policy and consumer advice.
Moreover, it could help design effective interventions and policies to prevent people developing allergies, as well as new strategies for desensitisation.
More details of the call for research proposals are available here. http://www.mrc.ac.uk/Fundingopportunities/Highlightnotices/FoodAllergyResearch/MRC007666
The deadline for submitting research proposals is in May, for discussion in October.