Approximately 15% of Canadians live with a food allergy. These debilitating and sometimes life-threatening reactions leave those affected constantly worried about encountering foods like peanuts, eggs, shellfish and others. Dr. Bruce Mazer, Executive Director and Chief Scientific Officer at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC), is working to change this. With the help of a transformative gift of $1,275,000 from the Chamandy Foundation, he launched Therapeutic Objective is Tolerance in Food Allergy (TOTAL), an initiative to improve therapeutic options for those living with severe food allergies.

Food allergies are the result of an immune response to certain proteins in the food. The body identifies these proteins as foreign invaders and makes antibodies to combat them. This leads to allergy symptoms like inflammation and shortness of breath. Dr. Mazer and his team are combatting allergies by developing oral medications that can stop severe allergic reactions. One such drug is currently in clinical trial to test its ability to desensitize people with allergies to peanuts, eggs, milk and hazelnuts.

Rebecca Munroe, Dr. Bruce Mazer, Tiffany Chamandy, Floriane Lemoine, Norman Steinberg, Karim Abuani, Dr. Marcel Behr and Julie Quenneville

In Canada, peanut allergies reported in schools doubled from the 1990s to the early 2000s. This drastic increase has made finding treatments to ease food allergies all the more critical. Researchers in Dr. Mazer’s labs are exploring different avenues to halting allergies. PhD student Wendy Zhao is developing and testing tailor-made medications that block the antibody that causes allergic reaction. These medications are completely personalized, and developed using a patient’s own antibodies. PhD student Casey Cohen is taking a different approach, studying a way to treat peanuts with heat and pressure to destroy the allergic reaction-causing protein. Clinical trials of these allergen-free peanuts have already begun.

With thanks to the Chamandy Foundation, the lives of people with allergies everywhere are about change.

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