Food allergies are becoming more common – but why?
Most industrialized nations are recording a rise in the number of people with food allergies. The reason for this increase, however, remains unclear. A new Clinical Research Unit at Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin will set out to explore how and why food allergies develop. The unit’s researchers hope to develop new strategies to prevent and treat such hypersensitivities. The program has been awarded approximately three million euros in funding from the German Research Foundation (DFG) for an initial period of three years.
While milk, eggs and nuts provide valuable nutrients, they can also trigger extreme immune responses – allergies – in some people. Why certain people are hypersensitive to these and other normally harmless foods remains unknown. Also unknown is the reason for the increase in the number of people with allergies over the past 20 years. The new Clinical Research Unit will address these questions.
“We will explore the precise mechanisms involved in the development of food allergies,” explains the Clinical Research Unit's spokesperson, Prof. Dr. Margitta Worm of the Department of Dermatology, Venereology and Allergology on Campus Charité Mitte. The researchers will analyze genetic and specific immune responses in defined pediatric and adult cohorts. “Specifically, we will test whether an early exposure of infants to specific food stuffs can prevent food allergies,” adds the Head of the Clinical Research Unit, Prof. Dr. Kirsten Beyer of the Department of Pediatrics, Division of Pneumonology, Immunology and Intensive Medicine.
“Using similar methods, we will also investigate what happens inside the human body when individuals with an existing food allergy start to increase their tolerance to a food trigger,” says Prof. Worm. The researchers will also study whether the composition of the skin and gut microbiomes (the microorganisms which reside on the skin and inside the gut) has an effect on the development or regression of food allergies. Prof. Beyer emphasizes: “Our research is not merely aimed at improving our understanding of how food allergies develop. We also intend to use this knowledge to develop strategies specifically aimed at their prevention and treatment.”
Clinical DFG Research Units
The DFG Research Unit program provides funding to outstanding researchers wishing to collaborate closely on a specific project. The program supports research endeavors which, in terms of thematic reach, duration and costs, go beyond the scope of the DFG’s individual grants programs. The purpose of Clinical Research Units is to fund research collaborations in disease- or patient-oriented (translational) clinical research and enable clinical institutions to establish permanent scientific working groups. Charité’s new DFG Research Unit will receive funding for an initial period of three years. Funding may be extended for a further three years, subject to the approval of renewal proposals.
Prof. Dr. Margitta Worm
Department of Dermatology, Venereology and Allergology
Campus Charité Mitte
Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin
t: +49 30 450 518 105
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