If you couldn’t attend the Food Allergy Fund’s inaugural summit last week, you’re in luck because I took copious notes! In addition to the highlights below, the Food Allegy Fund posted my official summary over on their site.
So many areas of food allergy converged at the Paley Center in New York City on April 4th: research, immunology, pediatrics, psychology, product innovation, advocacy, professional chefs and restauranteurs. And each attendee arrived with their own lens through which they view food allergies. Needless to say, interesting people provoke interesting conversations. I nearly filled a notebook with all the information I gleaned that day, but here are some of the stand-out highlights:
Dr. Patrick Brennan, recipient of FAF’s first $100,000 Innovator’s Research Grant, kicked the summit off by stating optimistically and quite matter-of-factly, “Food allergy is a solvable problem” and later continued to encourage patients about the future of food allergy research by declaring, “Innovation really comes through philanthropy.”
Next, Linda Herbert took the stage. As the Director of Psychosocial Program for the Department of Allergy and Immunology at Children’s National Medical Center, I could listen to her talk all day. Of the many, many fascinating things she said, here are two big ideas to think about:
- Human nature dictates that we crave predictability and human connection. Food allergies get in the way of both of those innate desires.
- With immunotherapy on the rise, it is expected that families will be more anxious and will need the help of mental health professionals even more frequently.
Susie Hultquist, CEO and Founder of the app Spokin, likened the current status of food allergy innovation to renting VHS tapes. Of where innovation stands, she says, “We’re in the Blockbuster age. We need to take this in the Netflix era.”
An emotionally charged panel of parents turned advocates dominated the stage, moderated with both kindness and generosity by CNN’s Chris Cillizza, a fellow food allergy parent.
- Lianne Mandelbaum of No Nut Traveler talked about airlines and their policies towards food allergies: “They are consistently inconsistent”.
- Clearly, we need practical procedures that can be consistently enforced across entire fleets and around the world. For example, of carrying epinephrine auto-injectors on airplanes, Lianne stated, “We have the tools and we need to be able to use them.”
- Georgina Cipriano of Love for Giovanni Foundation reminded the audience, “Please stress that epinephrine is safe. Please stress that it only hurts you when you DON’T use it.”
The amazing Dr. Ruchi Gupta hit the stage to talk about the lens-changing research she and her team have accomplished and what they are working on next. Importantly, if you have ideas for school and community-based food allergy research – let her know.
Dr Hugh Sampson, COO of DBV Technologies and Director Emeritus of the Jaffe Center at Mt. Sinai described the development of a new diagnostic tool to test not only for the presence of food allergy but for the possibility of reactivity as well as response to immunotherapy. In other words – it could show how someone’s immune system sees each food and create a unique “fingerprint” for food allergic response.
Celebrity chefs and restauranteurs Elizabeth Falkner, Amanda Freitag and Ming Tsai took the stage with so much experience and a lot of humor. Ming Tsai is a food allergy parent and pioneer; Amanda Freitag, allergic to hazelnuts, understands food allergies firsthand; and Elizabeth Falkner is a longtime food allergy advocate. The chefs agreed that having a system in place to handle food allergies in a restaurants kitchen is critical. “Five or six food allergy requests can shut down a line if you don’t have a system,” according to Ming Tsai. Amanda Freitag spoke about her own family’s experience dining out with food allergies. Like many families, she and her family are loyal customers of certain establishments. “We frequent these restaurants because they take care of us.” And with refreshing perspective, Elizabeth Falkner stated that she welcomes food allergy requests in her kitchen, “As a chef, I like challenges! I view it as a creative exercise.” Don’t we wish every chef was more like her!
The Food Allergy Summit had something for everyone. Thank you to the Food Allergy Fund and a special thank you to all the presenters and panelists for a very stimulating day. For a full summary of the inaugural Food Allergy Fund summit, please read here.