Story at a glance
- The “gold standard” of diagnosing food allergies is currently the oral food challenge.
- While generally safe, the oral food challenge can “expose some patients to severe food allergy reactions, serious illness and even death.”
- FARE is now seeking alternatives to the oral food challenge with a new prize.
A worldwide research competition has been officially launched today with $3 million available in prize money to discover a safer way to diagnose patients with life-threatening food allergies.
This afternoon, FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education), a nonprofit dedicated to food allergy research, announced a multiyear competition, with the purpose of replacing the oral food challenge (OFC) with a novel, less dangerous and more compassionate method. It's hoped this will be accomplished through the collaboration of researchers across the globe who have food allergy and immunology, biopharma and health care expertise.
An estimated 32 million Americans have food allergies, according to FARE.
These include foods many of us take for granted, such as dairy, eggs, peanuts and seafood, among other top allergens, which can be deadly for those with life-threatening food allergies.
FARE says the oral food challenge (OFC), which is “currently the ‘gold standard’ in diagnosing food allergies” — while generally safe, can “expose some patients to severe food allergy reactions, serious illness and even death.”
An oral food challenge involves a patient slowly eating a questionable food in small amounts under medical supervision to diagnose or rule out a true food allergy. It is often used in instances where people want to see if they've possibly outgrown a life-threatening food allergy or not.
FARE reports that about 2 percent of the patients in the U.S. experience anaphylaxis as a result of the test. Anaphylaxis is a severe, life-threatening reaction. In addition, FARE says, an OFC can also have long-lasting effect on patient anxiety and mental health due to the physical duress and health risks involved with its application.
When contacted by Changing America about today's announcement, Richmond, Va., mom Tiffany Glass Ferreira, a member of the Richmond Food Allergy Support Group, said, "This is wonderful news. As a mom of a child with anaphylactic food allergies, we postponed oral challenges due to fear of reactions. Stories of children suffering fatal reactions influenced our decision to continue avoiding potential allergens without oral challenge confirmation, because my first priority is to prevent any harm to my child."
Ferreira says her 14-year-old still avoids the ingredients that caused his last reaction 10 years ago. "New testing options could be life changing for him," says Ferreira. "Conflicting reports of oral challenge safety and outcomes make me uncomfortable trusting the safety of even small amounts of allergens. I would love to see more options for testing that are less frightening, invasive, and time consuming. These options are long overdue."
FARE's global research competition — which is being called the FAITH Challenge — aims to bring together the brightest minds in pursuit of the common goal of saving lives and to offer hope for those challenged with life-threatening food allergies.
"FARE’s FAITH Challenge is designed to galvanize the best researchers and innovators in the world to action – alone or in collaboration – to reach a breakthrough solution to the food allergy testing problem,” says Lisa Gable, Chief Executive Officer of FARE.
Competition research submissions will be reviewed by judges from both academia and the private sector who are experts in food allergy and immunology. A $1 million cash prize will be awarded to the winning team. FARE says interim diagnostic advancements will also receive interim cash awards from the total FAITH funding pool of $3 million, which has been donated by individual and corporate benefactors.
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