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Monday, February 3, 2014

Insights provided by mouse models relating to food allergy

Food allergy is a growing public health concern due to its increasing prevalence and life threatening potential.  Mouse models of food allergy have become useful tools for identifying the mechanisms involved in the sensitization of food allergens which are normally harmless as well as delineating the critical immune components of the effector phase of allergic reactions to food. In their review, Oyoshi et al have summarized the importance of animal models in food allergy research contrary to concerns regarding the relevance murine models have in understanding human disease (J Allergy Clin Immunol 2014; 133(2): 309-317). 

Mouse models have been exceedingly useful in the study of atopic dermatitis (AD) and asthma, paving the way for food allergy research.  For example, allergic sensitization or tolerance can be induced to specific allergens under controlled environmental conditions within defined genetic backgrounds that cannot be matched in human studies. The importance of Treg cells in the development of tolerance has been established in both mouse and humans in which deficiency of forkhead box protein 3 (foxp3)+ T cells leads to increased allergic disorders such as AD and food allergy.  These T cells have been found to be reduced in antibiotic treated mice which exhibit a predisposition towards allergic sensitization.  Furthermore, administration of commensal microbiota to these mice promoted Treg cells and limited allergic responses to foods. 

The authors explain how animal models of food allergy are invaluable tools for dissecting etiology, mechanisms and preventive strategies, as well as assisting in the identification, validation and development of therapies before they progress towards patients. While the application of animal models to human disease requires careful and thorough consideration and interpretation, their utility in facilitating truly translational discoveries has been demonstrated repeatedly and on many levels. Particularly in the setting of food allergy, where risks of adverse reactions to therapy are a major issue for patients, animal models will be indispensable to effectively and ethically develop new treatments. Mechanistically, the recent discoveries of the  roles of microbiota on the etiology of food allergy, derived from studies of animal models, provides an excellent example of how lessons learned from experimental animals can provide new breakthrough areas that educate future studies of host factors in human patients with food allergy. 

Question for the authors:
What effects on food allergy research do you anticipate from the significant cuts in basic science research funding that may reduce overall animal research?

Short-time decisions of the budget cuts in basic research funding in a time of financial crisis may lead to an abrupt slow of growth of basic science with severe long-term consequences. Particularly in the area of food allergy, where animal models are indispensible to perform mechanistic studies that are often not feasible in humans because of ethical, technical, and even financial reasons, cuts in basic science funding will leave researchers with fewer opportunities to try novel and innovative ideas that could have a high return. In addition, many of young basic scientists with limited budgets cannot survive even short term cuts. The annual costs to pediatric food allergy have been estimated at $25 billion. In today’s environment, I believe that the continued careful and coordinative work of basic and clinical science with strong support will lead to effective development of new treatment for food allergy.

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