- The Food Allergy Science Initiative, founded this year and hosted at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, is looking to the food and beverage industry for research funding.
- The goal of the initiative is to develop new diagnostics and treatments for food allergies, which could ultimately enable consumers to have more kinds of food in their homes.
- Researchers will examine biological mechanisms involved in food allergens and the body's responses to them. They will look at as allergen sensing, the gut's cellular environment, immune system reactions to allergens, and the role of microbiota in food allergies.
National health agencies report that food allergies are on the rise among children, with an estimated 8% of American children suffering from them. This has given rise to entire product categories targeted at those with food allergies, commonly known as the free-from foods movement.
With food allergies and competition from free-from foods on the rise, manufacturers could have incentive to support such a research initiative. Successful treatments for food allergies could bring products that contain common allergens like soy, nuts or dairy to a growing group of consumers who cannot eat those products or who avoid buying them because their children have food allergies.
Also, supporting this type of research initiative could boost a company's reputation in the minds of consumers. For certain companies, this initiative may already align with their own research projects, such as Dannon, which announced commitments to research of the microbiome and probiotics in May. Researchers believe an imbalance in the immune system, which is increasingly tied to the microbiome, could be one cause of food allergies.
However, committing to funding this type of research also means manufacturers may have to contend with any findings that could impact their own product formulations. Some believe artificial ingredients or eliminating certain natural chemicals found in whole foods during mass production and processing have caused allergies. If so, the research could pressure them to reformulate their own products, which may come at an additional cost.