American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, March 13-17, 2009

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Annual Meeting

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Annual Meeting took place March 13 to 17 in Washington, D.C., and attracted more than 7,000 delegates. About 60 percent of the meeting addressed advances in clinical science while the remainder addressed advances in basic science.

"As a whole, the meeting had a food allergy theme," said program committee chair Stokes Peebles, M.D., of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. "Exciting research from the University of Arkansas suggested that it's possible to desensitize peanut-allergic patients. Often, such people go out to eat and consume peanut without realizing it, which is a major cause of mortality. Desensitization therapy may provide a buffer that saves such people from death."

Peebles added, "Other exciting work from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine suggested that Chinese herbal therapy may be effective for both peanut allergy and asthma. Right now, we don't have any approved therapy for food allergy other than avoidance. It would be a great clinical benefit if this therapy works out like the researchers think it will."

Led by Xiu-Min Li, M.D., the Mount Sinai team studied the effects of the Food Allergy Herbal Formula (FAHF-2), a tablet that contains nine herbs. In a mouse model of multiple food allergy to peanut, codfish and egg, they showed the FAHF-2 provided complete protection against anaphylaxis. They also demonstrated that FAHF-2 downregulates food-specific IgE and affects memory T-cells, factors that may have accounted for continued protection against anaphylaxis in mice for more than 36 weeks after treatment was discontinued.

"Food allergy is a serious and sometimes fatal condition for which there is no cure," Li said in a statement. "Approximately 80 percent of fatal or near-fatal anaphylaxis cases are due to peanut allergy in this country. There is an urgent need for effective therapies to prevent and treat those who suffer from food allergies and FAHF-2 could prove to be a major advancement in this field."

Abstract #577

Encouraged by these results, Li and her team conducted a Phase 1 study in which 12 patients aged 12 to 45 with a history of peanut, tree nut, fish or shellfish allergy were randomly assigned to receive FAHF-2 at doses of 2.2 grams, 3.3 grams or 6.6 grams, or placebo for seven days. "FAHF-2 appears to be safe and well tolerated by food allergic patients at the low and medium doses," Li and colleagues concluded.

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FAHF-2 has received investigational new drug approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and additional human clinical trials are under way at Mount Sinai. In an extended-phase, open-label trial, the researchers observed no adverse effects after six months. The researchers are currently conducting a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of FAHF-2 involving about 170 patients at multiple centers. "Unfortunately, they don't yet have any results," Peebles said. "But we're eagerly awaiting them."

"This [mouse] study reinforces previous studies showing that this botanical drug has the potential to be developed into the first available and effective treatment for patients with peanut allergies and other food allergies," study co-author Hugh Sampson, M.D., of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and AAAAI president, said in a statement.

Li and Sampson hold patents for FAFH-2.

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"In addition to these potentially important clinical advances, there were some tremendous basic science presentations," Peebles said, including a study presented by Dawn Newcomb, Ph.D., of Vanderbilt University. "She discovered that the receptor for IL-13 is on the TH-17 cells. When you give IL-13 to TH-17 cells, it downregulates the production of IL-17, which plays an important role in autoimmunity and in fighting infections."

This is an important finding, Peebles said, because pharmaceutical companies are developing IL-13 blocking drugs to treat autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel disease. The new research suggests that such drugs could worsen these diseases by upregulating TH-17 inflammation.

"On the other hand, since IL-13 is made in allergic diseases such as asthma and it downregulates IL-17 production, Dr. Newcomb's work is also important because it may explain why asthmatics are more likely to get pneumonia and other severe bacterial infections," Peebles said.

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Other studies presented at the conference reported that food allergy causes significant financial strain in families and also limits family vacations. In one study, researchers identified 4,331 food-allergic children and found that caregivers of such children are significantly more likely than other caregivers to either stop working or reduce working hours. In a second study, researchers surveyed 410 families. Among those who take vacations, they found that 90 percent only vacationed in the United States and that only 0.3 percent vacationed in remote locales. Of the 36 percent of respondents who reported limiting their mode of transportation, 80 percent said they avoided ships and 65 percent said they avoided air travel.

Another food-allergy study, an analysis of 8,203 subjects in the 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, found a high overall prevalence of clinical food allergy and food sensitization (2.55 percent and 16.8 percent, respectively) and reported that young black males were at particular risk of food allergy.

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AAAAI: Advisory-Free Foods May Contain Allergens

TUESDAY, March 17 (HealthDay News) -- Some food products without "may contain" allergy advisory labels may still be contaminated with allergens, according to research presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology held March 13 to 17 in Washington, D.C.

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AAAAI: Oral Immunotherapy Induces Tolerance to Peanuts

TUESDAY, March 17 (HealthDay News) -- In peanut-allergic children, incremental doses of peanut protein may gradually modify the immune system and lead to clinical tolerance, according to research presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology held March 13 to 17 in Washington, D.C.

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AAAAI: Novel Interventions May Benefit Asthmatic Teens

MONDAY, March 16 (HealthDay News) -- MP3 technology and sports camps may be two means of improving asthma education in teenagers, according to research presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology held March 13 to 17 in Washington, D.C.

Abstract #820
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AAAAI: Newer Asthma Medications Benefit Children

MONDAY, March 16 (HealthDay News) -- Better medications have improved asthma control in children since the mid-1990s, but too many children are not receiving optimum asthma care even if they have insurance, according to research presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, held March 13 to 17 in Washington, D.C.

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