Benaroya Research Institute Will Receive $750,000 for Food Allergy Research

Seattle, WA

Erik Wambre, PhD, an immunology and allergy researcher at Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason (BRI), has received a Mid-Career Investigators Award from Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) that provides $750,000 over five years to support research in food allergy, specifically peanut allergy.

Wambre will identify and isolate the T cells that cause peanut allergy. The genes used by these T cells will be studied to understand why these cells are causing allergies. This information will then be used to discover how to effectively neutralize these cells and cure peanut allergy. The FARE award contributes to the pioneering work at BRI to better understand the immune system’s response to allergies and develop new approaches for diagnosis and treatment.

“BRI’s allergy program is a leading innovator in the development of biomarkers for diagnosis, patient monitoring and prognosis,” said Gerald Nepom, MD, PhD, director, BRI. “Our work shows for the first time precisely what immune cells ‘see’ when they respond to allergens and measures precisely how this occurs. This is an important advance for allergy research and patient care.”

The work is being conducted in collaboration with physicians of the Virginia Mason Department of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology. David Jeong, MD serves as the lead clinical researcher along with physicians Mary Farrington and David Robinson, who all provide clinical expertise and data from a group of clinical research volunteers.

“The breadth of research from the laboratory, translated into clinical treatment and back to the laboratory is really all under ‘one roof’ here,” said Dr. Nepom, “forming a dynamic collaboration to find the best treatments for people with allergic disease.”

Errors made by the body’s immune system initiate allergies, Wambre explained. “The immune system of individuals who are allergic to allergens such as peanuts or pollen is induced by immune cells called T cells to respond in ways which cause inflammation and allergy symptoms,” he added.

“Using a technology pipeline developed at BRI, we can now trace the T cells that cause allergy,” Wambre said. “The genes used by these T cells will be analyzed to find out why these cells are causing allergies. Then this information will be used to improve strategies to neutralize these cells and treat allergies. This work has already successfully developed practical tools to study allergies in molecular detail, providing new insights into therapeutic targets.”

William Kwok, PhD, co-investigator with Wambre, initiated BRI’s studies in allergy almost a decade ago. Other BRI experts involved in allergy research represent systems immunology; bioinformatics, genomic, bioregistries and clinical cores.

More than 50 million people in the U.S., or more than 1 in 5 individuals, suffer from all types of allergies, including indoor/outdoor, food and drug, latex, insect, skin and eye allergies. Allergy prevalence overall has been increasing since the early 1980s. For some individuals, allergies not only compromise quality of life but can be life-threatening.

FARE is the world’s largest private source of funding for food allergy research. Learn more about FARE online.

Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason (BRI) is committed to finding causes and cures for autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and multiple sclerosis, and immune system diseases such as allergies and asthma. An internationally-recognized medical research institute, BRI accelerates discovery through laboratory breakthroughs in immunology that are then translated to clinical therapies. BRI is a leader of collaborative initiatives through the Immune Tolerance Network and other major cooperative research programs. Visit or follow Benaroya Research Institute on Facebook to learn more.

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Kay Branz
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