In addition to our regular CRI Activities Update, this month’s Research Focus highlights collaborative work from the team led by Wesley Burks, MD, Executive Dean for the UNC School of Medicine and Curnen Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics.

Activities Update: We have been working with the Medical Foundation to develop our CRI website and we are excited to announce that our initial pages are now available for viewing at: childrensresearch.unc.edu. Here you will find background information on the CRI; how to participate in Pay-it-Forward, Move-it-Forward (PIF-MIF); information on the CRI Seminar Series; and our CRI Monthly Updates. We are continuing to develop content for additional pages, including updated information on our pediatric researchers.

RemindersWesley Burks, MD, is kicking off our CRI monthly luncheon seminar series on Thursday, October 5, at 12:15 p.m. in the Bioinformatics Auditorium (room 1131). We look forward to seeing you there.

Also, the Carolina for the Kids Research Grant (previously known as the Promise Research Grant) call for proposals was posted, with a due date of October 9, 2017. For more information visit:  http://www.uncchildrens.org/uncmc/unc-childrens/support/promise-research-grants/

Research Focus of the MonthTo inform each other of the research interactions in pediatrics, and in the spirit of CRI’s mission to promote collaboration, each CRI update will continue to highlight different investigators’ collaborative efforts. Below is a summary on the collaborative research from the team led by Wesley Burks, MD, Executive Dean for the UNC School of Medicine and Curnen Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics.

Wesley Burks, MD

According to the CDC, food allergies affect 4-6% of children in the U.S. The number of children with severe food allergies has risen dramatically over the past 2 decades, and often, children with food allergies are more likely to suffer from other allergies and related conditions.

For now, there are no known cures for food allergies; strictly avoiding the food allergen and having access to self-injectable epinephrine remain the only ways to prevent potentially life-threatening reactions. But Wesley Burks, MD, and his team at the UNC Food Allergy Initiative are aiming to change this through bench research and clinical trials, targeting the biological mechanisms that cause children’s food allergies. The Burks lab collaborates within UNC in these research endeavors with Fernando Pardo-Manuel de Villena, PhD, developing a mouse model for peanut allergy, and across the United States with the multi-center, NIH-funded Consortium of Food Allergy Research (CoFAR).

The major focus of the Burks’ lab is to understand the immune response to develop a treatment for food allergy utilizing immunotherapy, and understand at a cellular and molecular level how these therapies modulate immune responses to foods. To answer this question, the Burks lab studies the use of oral, sublingual, and epicutaneous peanut immunotherapies to treat peanut-allergic pediatric subjects. These therapies suggest promising results for reintroducing peanuts back into the diet, but have several limitations. Clinical responses are variable and it remains unpredictable who may respond to and benefit from treatment. Also, biomarkers for diagnosis, precision medicine, and outcomes are lacking, hampering identifying patients who may benefit from treatment. Therefore, the Food Allergy Initiative is also working to develop an improved mouse model of peanut allergy that would more accurately model the human disease and provide the platform to develop new therapies as well as improve understanding of disease etiology.

Collaboration with the UNC Systems Genetics Core has enabled the Burks lab to make this step, by supplying a unique resource of genetically diverse strains of Collaborative Cross mice from which to develop an animal model. The Burks lab, together with Fernando Pardo-Manuel de Villena, PhD in Genetics, have identified a mouse strain that reacts severely upon oral exposure to peanut. Further characterization of this model has shown that it accurately recapitulates human disease. This work has been submitted for publication. In addition, the Burks lab has received funding through NC TraCS (Team Translational Science Award) to study the genetics responsible for this phenotype as well as develop an oral immunotherapy model in these mice.

Through their collaborative work with CoFAR, the Burks lab has conducted multi-center clinical trials, observational studies, mechanistic studies, and basic research with other leaders in the field of food allergy research across the nation. The NIH recently renewed their investment in this research this past spring, with Dr. Burks serving as co-Principal Investigator of the consortium along with Robert Wood, MD at Johns Hopkins. Research results from CoFAR have demonstrated desensitization of children with egg allergy by using oral immunotherapy; identified dose, duration, and route for egg and peanut immunotherapy for further investigation; and revealed genes associated with increased risk of peanut allergy in European American populations.

For more information, visit:

https://www.med.unc.edu/pediatrics/specialties/air/food-allergy

Selected Publications:

Utility of component analyses in subjects undergoing sublingual immunotherapy for peanut allergy

Clin Exp Allergy. 2016 February ; 46(2): 347–353.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4732904/pdf/nihms722521.pdf

Oral Immunotherapy for Treatment of Egg Allergy in Children

N Engl J Med. 2012 Jul 19; 367(3): 233–243.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3424505/