This column is from the Spring 2018 edition of Allergic Living magazine, available at Barnes & Noble.
By now most of you are probably aware that I have resigned my position at FARE to move on to other endeavors later this year. While I am certainly excited to return to the private sector, I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have led FARE. It has been a true pleasure to work with the remarkable people here, and I can attest to their commitment to the food allergy cause. I also want to thank Allergic Living for allowing me to have this column and express my opinions.
Despite being an allergist for over 30 years, I have learned an incredible amount about the problems of food allergy patients and families over the past four years. I continue to be amazed by the challenges that must be faced by young parents with food-allergic children. Every moment of every day requires thought and planning, and almost no activity is entirely safe.
The courage of patients and families willing to participate in clinical trials and to undergo food challenges is truly a remarkable thing. I am awed and humbled by these efforts. It makes me want to help turn this scourge into a manageable disease in the near future.
Part of trying to make food allergies manageable is identifying what would transform the lives of food-allergic individuals. Since there are so many immediate needs of the food allergy community, it is a daunting task. Despite the many different possibilities, however, the hopes that patients and their families have communicated to me tend to fall into three general areas. They could be thought of as the three food allergy wishes to ask from a proverbial genie!
The first wish is for improved social awareness. Food allergy needs its own “#metoo” moment. Making fun of people with food allergies needs to stop, and the systematic isolationism, bullying and intimidation that have made life so unpleasant for so many children has to end.
There may be no other disease where performers consistently make fun of a medical condition as they do with food allergy. It is so twisted that murder by food allergy is perceived as a clever plot line in Hollywood (see the recent “Peter Rabbit” children’s movie). Since social awareness has finally hit Hollywood, in a manner unlike anything seen before, I hope that this new sense of the unacceptable extends to food allergies as well.
I also wish for truly innovative treatments for food allergy. These would not be a cure, which is more than a short-term hope! What l am thinking of, however, is not just a marginal improvement of a current drug, a new epinephrine auto-injector or some approach to tolerate a peanut or two. I wish for something truly transformative. Think along the lines of a sensor you could wear that would automatically administer epinephrine at the first sign of a severe allergic reaction.
I also would like treatment that you could give yourself if you’re having an allergic reaction that stops the reaction entirely. This would let you go on and live your life without having to head to the emergency room or take other measures.
Ultimately, it would be wonderful to have some sort of short-term stopgap for food allergy so that for a couple of weeks a person would just entirely lose their allergy. Sound far-fetched? From what scientists are learning about the workings of the immune system, this is not beyond the realm of possibility. The concept of allowing a child to attend camp, summer school, or just be away from their parents on a trip would be an incredible advance, even if it was just temporary. You can imagine the peace of mind that would provide to parents sending their food-allergic children off for the first time.
Finally, I wish for much more private sector awareness and involvement in food allergy. The support those with food allergies need in terms of specialty foods, social support systems, accurate diagnostic tests and new therapeutics will require significant additional investments.
Companies develop innovative products. But without having a focused investor community that believes in the food allergy audience as a market and supports young allergy-conscious companies, these products may never happen. I hope that an investor community does arise to support and guide the development of these companies, and it could certainly come from food-allergic people themselves. Since the number of individuals with food allergies continues to grow, this also should be an opportunity that would attract attention from the general public.
So those are my three wishes; let’s hope we find someone to grant them!
Dr. Jim Baker is the CEO of Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE). For more information, visit Foodallergy.org.
Read more articles by Dr. James Baker:
FARE’s Dr. Baker on Getting Serious About Food Allergy Progress
FARE’s Dr. Baker on Epinephrine Access: Positive Changes, But More Choice Needed
FARE’s Dr. Baker: Facing Up to Food Fears