Biennial Report of the Director

Research in Diseases, Disorders, and Health Conditions
Chronic Diseases and Organ Systems
Allergy and Asthma

Allergic diseases, including asthma, currently are a major cause of illness and disability in the U.S. NIAID supports studies of the cause, pathogenesis, course of disease, and diagnosis of allergic diseases and evaluates new approaches to treat and prevent them. Í

Asthma is a chronic lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways. Asthma causes recurring periods of wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe), chest tightness, shortness of breath, and coughing.158 The coughing often occurs at night or early in the morning. NIAID supports targeted research to understand the causes of and develop preventions and treatments for asthma, a respiratory disease that affects almost 25 million Americans, including 7 million children aged 17 years and under. NIAID's research focuses on understanding how the environment, allergens, and genetics interact with the body's immune system to cause the disease and aggravate the symptoms.

Among recent advances, a NIAID-supported clinical trial showed that adding the antibody omalizumab, to the NIH guideline-based asthma treatment regimen of inner-city children significantly reduced their asthma symptoms and nearly eliminated seasonal asthma exacerbations. The study is being conducted through the NIH Inner-City Asthma Consortium launched in 2002 and is now composed of 10 academic clinical centers. The Consortium evaluates the safety and efficacy of promising immune-based therapies to reduce asthma severity and prevent disease onset in inner-city children. The Consortium also pursues studies to understand mechanisms underlying the onset and progression of asthma and research to develop diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers.
Food allergy is an abnormal response to a food, triggered by the body’s immune system. The response may be mild, or in rare cases it can be associated with the severe and life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. NIAID is the lead Institute at NIH for research in food allergy and supports research to help better understand, prevent, and manage this disorder that affects approximately 5 percent of children and 4 percent of adults in the United States. Since 2003, NIAID has substantially increased its support for food allergy research, which now spans the spectrum from basic research in allergy and immunology to clinical trials that are testing new strategies to treat and prevent food allergy

In recent years, concerns have mounted over the rise in prevalence of food allergy in children and adults. Currently, the only strategies to combat the condition are to avoid the particular food and treat the symptoms as they occur. In response to these concerns, NIAID collaborated with more than 30 professional organizations, federal agencies, and patient advocacy groups to develop clinical guidelines for use in the U.S. The guidelines will help healthcare professionals diagnose and manage non-life-threatening food allergies as well as anaphylaxis and other acute and potentially life-threatening food-allergy reactions. NIAID also supports development of approaches to treat or prevent food allergies. For example, an oral immunotherapy trial found that egg could be introduced safely into the diets of 75 percent of egg-allergic children.