So far, patients impacted by food allergies only have one safe choice: avoiding foods with allergy-causing ingredients. However, strictly cutting these ingredients from a patient's diet neglects the individual threshold of each person and ignores the fact that food processing may alter the allergenic potential of ingredients. In order to develop tools that identify the allergenic potential in the food, an interdisciplinary research group has now been launched to combine clinical, analytical and production know-how. The project title “ErdHase“ – a combination of the German terms Erdnüsse (peanuts) and Haselnüsse (hazelnuts) – refers to the two well-known allergy triggers.
In fact, peanuts and hazelnuts are the two most common and most dangerous allergy triggers. The reactions range from mild skin itching to life-threatening cardiovascular problems. Four percent of the population worldwide suffers from peanut or hazelnut allergies. However, processing may reduce or increase the allergenic potential of peanuts and hazelnuts depending on the processing method – a fact that is ignored by common tools for food allergy analysis so far.
That is why the research group consisting of seven project partners has chosen the two allergy triggers as an example to study how the safety of allergy patients may be improved with a combination of different immunological test systems – even during the production process. The full title of the project is: “Identifying the allergenic potential of peanuts and hazelnuts in food processing chains with regard to patient allergenicity” – in short: ErdHase.
“Peanuts and hazelnuts are among the most prominent triggers for potentially life-threatening allergic reactions. It is our vision to develop a system of key importance to patients and food producers, which enables the food industry to enhance the quality of life of people impacted by food allergies,” said Dr. Susanne Siebeneicher, project coordinator at the leading R-Biopharm AG after signing the cooperation contract.
The project is scheduled for three years and funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) with about 2 million euros. Its aim is to develop analytical tools for managing food allergens along the food production chain. To that end, clinical and serological profiles of allergy patients will be created in order to better judge in advance if processed foods are well-tolerated. With the help of recombinant antibodies cloned from the B cells of allergy patients, a toolbox for food analysis will be created that is directly linked to the identification of allergens.
The following medical institutions, analysts, scientific and industry partners have teamed up for the research project:
- R-Biopharm – Project coordinator and expert for the development of test kits to detect allergens in food and to characterize allergy patients. The qLINE® test system identifies a patient‘s allergy triggers and is used to classify allergy sufferers and to characterize patients from the clinical trial. Dr. Markus Böhl, Head of R&D, New Technologies, at R-Biopharm explains: “Effective protection of food allergy patients requires diagnostic solutions from two worlds: food analysis and clinical diagnostics. With the launch of the project, we will create the basis to merge these two areas to form a comprehensive solution for the benefit of the patients.”
- Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin – Two medical centers of the Charité University Hospital take part in the BMBF-funded project. Each medical center has outstanding expertise in researching and conducting clinical studies on food allergies with well-characterized patient cohorts of all age groups. Project leader Dr. Sabine Dölle-Bierke from the Department of Dermatology, Venerology and Allergology emphasizes: “Strictly avoiding certain ingredients means more than just cutting them from your diet – it strongly impairs the quality of life of our patients. Food analysis tailored to the patient group opens up a new selection of products and increases the quality of life.” Project leader Prof. Dr. Kirsten Beyer from the Department of Pediatric Respiratory Medicine, Immunology and Critical Care Medicine adds: “The Charité is responsible for identifying and characterizing the patient cohorts. The aim of the interdisciplinary cooperation is to create a product declaration that allergy patients can easily understand.”
- Deutscher Allergie- und Asthmabund (DAAB) – The largest association for patients with food allergies in Germany is involved in several national and international research projects. In addition to the patient perspective, the association will bring in the perspective of nutritionists specialized in allergology. Ecotrophologist Sabine Schnadt explains: “As a patient and consumer representative, the DAAB is pleased to be a partner in a project that combines medical and industrial aspects of peanut and hazelnut allergy. At the interface between patients, medical professionals and food producers, we will conduct target group specific surveys to learn more about people’s expectations and their experience with allergies.”
- Hochschule Fresenius, University of Applied Science – Expert in the production and purification of proteins and protein analysis. Prof. Dr. Klaus Schneider, Head of Institute for Biomolecular Research: „Being able to eat products that contain nuts after carrying out a test – that is our goal. We want people who have strictly avoided nuts because of their allergy to be able to eat those products again.”
- Hochschule Geisenheim University, Department of Food Safety – The university has outstanding expertise in the production and analysis of defined processed foods and close contacts to food producers. “This project represents an innovative approach to develop a method to identify allergens because it takes into account the production process and the reaction of affected patients,” explain Prof. Dr. Simone Loos-Theisen and Prof. Dr.-Ing. Bernd Lindemann.
- YUMAB GmbH – Expertise in the development of recombinant antibodies that show the patient's immune response. Dr. André Frenzel, Chief Scientific Officer at YUMAB GmbH: “We are looking forward to working with the various partners from allergy and diagnostic research and are convinced that we can make a positive contribution to create a toolbox for food analysis.”