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Allergic Diseases

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Funded Research Programs

The causes, pathogenesis, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of asthma and allergic diseases are major areas of emphasis for NIAID-funded programs.

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For more information about these programs, contact daitinfo@niaid.nih.gov.

Allergen and T-Cell Reagent Resources for the Study of Allergic Diseases

In 2005, NIAID sponsored a workshop on the future of immunotherapy for allergic diseases. One of the recommendations of the panel was to "expand chemical characterization of known and novel allergens." As a result, in fiscal year 2007 NIAID awarded two contracts for the identification, development, and validation of T-cell allergen epitopes (parts of allergens that T cells bind to) from a variety of clinically important allergens that are involved in diseases such as asthma, allergic rhinitis (hay fever), and food allergy.

The findings of these research contracts are deposited into the Immune Epitope Database, a comprehensive, publicly available database, and are used to define a set of immunological reagents to be employed by the research community in the study of allergic diseases.

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Asthma and Allergic Diseases Cooperative Research Centers (AADCRCs)

The AADCRCs are the cornerstone of NIAID efforts to promote multidisciplinary basic and clinical research focusing on the immunological basis, pathobiology, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of asthma and allergic diseases. The original program, established in 1971, was the first targeted program to promote research in the field of asthma and allergic diseases. Over the years, the centers have conducted groundbreaking research on key aspects of asthma and allergic diseases. These include the central role of immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies in allergy and asthma, the role of eosinophils and mast cells (both types of immune cells that can release histamine) in allergic inflammation, the role of leukotrienes (signaling molecules that trigger contractions in the smooth muscles lining the windpipe), and the importance of indoor allergens and ambient air pollution in asthma.

Current basic and clinical research of the AADCRCs aims to

  • Investigate the role of the immune system in the development, treatment, and prevention of asthma and allergic diseases
  • Determine how infections and immune responses to infections may contribute to the development or worsening of asthma and allergic diseases
  • Describe how various types of immune cells are affected in asthma and allergic diseases
  • Understand the role that pollution and environmental allergens may play in the development and worsening of asthma
  • Examine the immunologic basis of food allergy and development of tolerance to foods

Read more about NIAID AADCRCs.

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Atopic Dermatitis Research Network (ADRN)

NIAID established the Atopic Dermatitis and Vaccinia Network (ADVN) in 2004 to better understand why some people with atopic dermatitis (AD, also known as eczema) are at a high risk for a life-threatening infection when vaccinated with weakened vaccinia virus, which is used to vaccinate against smallpox.

In 2010, the ADVN was recompeted with expanded goals and renamed the Atopic Dermatitis Research Network (ADRN). This network consists of the following two components:

  1. A combined clinical and animal consortium, led by Donald Leung, M.D., Ph.D., of National Jewish Health, Denver, Colorado, and composed of 10 research institutes across the United States
  2. A statistical and data coordinating center, led by Gloria David, Ph.D., of Rho, Inc., Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to support the efforts of the ADRN program

The ADRN continues and expands on work initiated by the ADVN to understand host defense mechanisms and immune system responses to viral and bacterial skin infections in healthy individuals and people with AD. Clinical research and closely related animal research examine the following:

  • Defense mechanisms of the skin, both immune defenses and skin barrier function
  • Immune changes during disease development
  • Genetic variants that contribute to the development and severity of AD
  • Susceptibility to colonization and infection by bacteria including Staphylococcus aureus and methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA)
  • Susceptibility to infection by viruses, including herpes simplex virus and vaccinia virus
  • Vaccine responses among individuals with AD

Learn more about the ADRN.

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Consortium of Food Allergy Research (CoFAR)

CoFAR was established in fiscal year 2005 to support clinical research on food allergy. It was renewed in FY 10 to continue several promising clinical studies from the original consortium and expanded to include research on the genetic causes underlying food allergy and the mechanisms of food allergy-associated eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE).

The following are the goals of the expanded CoFAR:
 
  • Identify the mechanisms underlying the development of new food allergy and the mechanisms of loss of food allergy (i.e., emergence of oral tolerance to food allergens)
  • Develop immune intervention strategies for the treatment of food allergy
  • Identify the role of food allergy in EoE, and compare the genetic markers of EoE with those of food allergy involving IgE, the primary antibody associated with allergic reactions
  • Identify the genes associated with food allergy

Investigators supported by the first CoFAR program initiated one observational study and three clinical trials in food allergy research, all of which continue under the current program.

The observational study has enrolled infants ages 3 to 15 months with known allergies to egg and/or milk but without clinical peanut allergy. The study is evaluating differences in immunologic changes and biological markers in the infants who develop peanut allergy compared to those who do not. It also is evaluating immunologic changes and biologic markers in the infants who lose their allergy to egg and/or milk compared to those whose allergy persists.

One clinical trial is studying children ages 5 to 18 years old who ingest egg powder as a potential treatment for egg allergy. A second trial is looking at individuals 12 years and older who receive an extract of modified peanut under the tongue as a potential therapy for peanut allergy. A third trial is examining the safety of genetically modified peanut allergens encapsulated within heat-killed bacteria and given rectally to adults as a potential therapy for peanut allergy. Other clinical studies are in the planning and development stages.

For additional information, visit the CoFAR website.

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Exploratory Investigations in Food Allergy

This initiative, first established in 2008 and renewed in 2010, aims to stimulate innovative, high-impact food allergy research studies and to encourage the participation of investigators new to this area of research. It is co-sponsored by NIAID, the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, and the Food Allergy Initiative. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provided additional support for this initiative in 2008.

Under these programs, investigators address key questions aimed at improving treatment and prevention of food allergy and furthering the understanding of mechanisms and risk factors associated with food allergy. Individual project goals include the following:

  • Predicting which food proteins are likely to cause allergic reactions
  • Identifying the factors that trigger severe responses
  • Determining the contribution of other immune disorders, such as asthma and eczema, to food allergy
  • Defining the genetics of food allergy
  • Understanding the role of interactions between genes and the environment in food allergy pathogenesis

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Immune Tolerance Network (ITN)

The ITN is an international consortium of over 80 investigators in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia dedicated to the clinical evaluation of novel, tolerance-inducing therapies in autoimmune diseases, asthma and allergic diseases, and rejection of transplanted organs, tissues, and cells. The goal of these therapies is to “reeducate” the immune system to eliminate injurious immune responses and graft rejection while preserving protective immunity against infectious agents. To understand the underlying mechanisms of action of the candidate therapies and to monitor tolerance, the ITN has established state-of-the art core laboratory facilities to conduct integrated mechanistic studies and to develop and evaluate markers and assays to measure the induction, maintenance, and loss of tolerance in humans. 

The ITN was established in 1999 and is supported by NIAID, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Learn more about the Immune Tolerance Network.

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Inner-City Asthma Consortium (ICAC)

ICAC is an NIAID-supported research network that conducts a variety of clinical studies with the goal of improving the treatment of asthma in children living in inner-city environments, where the prevalence and severity of asthma is particularly high. Clinical studies have been conducted to evaluate behavioral, educational, treatment-based, and environmental interventions. ICAC’s nationwide network of basic scientists and clinical researchers conducts clinical trials to evaluate the safety and efficacy of promising immune-based therapies designed to improve asthma control, prevent asthma development, define asthma phenotypes, and enhance our understanding of the immunopathogenesis of asthma among children residing in the inner city.

Established in 2002 and recompeted in 2009, ICAC consists of a network of nine clinical and two basic research sites throughout the United States.

Read more about NIAID's Programs on Asthma in the Inner City.

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Last Updated August 09, 2011