The Schroeder Allergy and Immunology Research Institute is researching new ways to treat and prevent allergies.
One in two Canadian households is affected by food allergy. To push research forward in this important area, Walter and Maria Schroeder donated $10 million to McMaster University to establish the Schroeder Allergy and Immunology Research Institute (SAIRI). The funding supports senior scientists and scholars in allergy investigation and furthers the work of a groundbreaking study launched in 2008 that has tracked about 3,500 children from birth. The project, known as the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) study, examines various childhood conditions, including the origins of allergies and asthma.
“Though we’ve made progress, there are many unknowns in allergy,” says Dr. Susan Waserman, Director of SAIRI. “Historically, allergy has not been a focus of research funding, but dedicated researchers have provided some insights into the mechanisms underlying allergic conditions. While novel therapies have been developed for some allergic diseases, others, like food allergies, remain without good treatment options.
“The gift from the Schroeder family and the establishment of the Schroeder Allergy and Immunology Research Institute represent important steps to provide much-needed infrastructure for allergy research,” says Dr. Waserman.
More than three million Canadians have a food allergy
Indeed, the numbers show that food allergies deserve greater attention. More than three million Canadians have a food allergy, including almost 500,000 children.
If someone has a food allergy, their immune system mistakenly treats something in a particular food as if it’s dangerous. As a result, their body reacts to the food by having an allergic reaction. Symptoms and severity of an allergic reaction can differ each time. However, in certain types of allergies, even eating a very small amount of the food can potentially trigger a life-threatening allergic reaction (anaphylaxis). Symptoms of anaphylaxis can include hives, swelling, shortness of breath, trouble swallowing, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, or shock.
The future of allergy research lies in the next generation of basic and clinical scientists who will use new technologies that can generate more data than ever before. Hidden within these datasets is a fundamental understanding of how allergies work, which we will translate into novel therapies to test in the clinic.
Long history of leadership in allergy and asthma research
Building on a long history of leadership in allergy and asthma research at McMaster, SAIRI has already made groundbreaking discoveries in the field of allergy research just one year after its creation.
SAIRI is led by Dr. Waserman, who recently received the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology Distinguished Member Award, which recognizes a member who has made outstanding achievements in the allergy, asthma, and immunology fields, and has accomplishments that serve as an inspiration and example for others to follow.
Dr. Manel Jordana, a globally recognized allergy researcher, is the co-ordinator of the treatment branch, which has a mission to make impactful discoveries about the ways in which allergies affect the immune system and translate these discoveries into treatments for Canadians with allergies. Dr. P.J. Subbarao is the co-ordinator of the prevention branch, which uses population-level information and epidemiology, including the CHILD cohort study, to prevent the emergence of allergic diseases.
Researchers developing new technologies and therapies
SAIRI researchers have developed technologies and systems that seek to unravel the complex interactions that make up an immune response to allergens. They have also identified new therapies and are researching ways to use these discoveries in the treatment of food allergies.
Dr. Joshua Koenig, Assistant Director of SAIRI, has developed a platform to study rare cells that cause peanut allergy and a tool to evaluate the interactions present in allergic conditions that are not present in healthy conditions. SAIRI is the only group using this technology to study allergic diseases.
Researchers also identified a potential food allergy therapy — a discovery that was highlighted as one of the most impactful studies in food allergy in 2021 by the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. This work is moving forward through clinical trials.
SAIRI is also focused on training the next generation of scientists to make meaningful discoveries in allergy research. As part of this goal, SAIRI is developing a pathway for graduate students to international training opportunities and jobs.
“The future of allergy research lies in the next generation of basic and clinical scientists who will use new technologies that can generate more data than ever before,” says Dr. Jordana. “Hidden within these datasets is a fundamental understanding of how allergies work, which we will translate into novel therapies to test in the clinic.”
Longstanding collaboration with Food Allergy Canada
Another core pillar of the institute is to engage with the allergy community in many ways. The institute’s researchers have had a longstanding collaboration with Food Allergy Canada through numerous initiatives, the most notable of which is the Sean Delaney Golf Classic, which raised significant and much-needed funds over 13 years to establish and drive food allergy research at McMaster.
SAIRI routinely publishes summaries of new allergy research in the Food Allergy Canada newsletter and works with the organization to educate the public about food allergy prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Additionally, SAIRI has worked with members of the food service industry and food retail communities to develop guides for food allergen training and management.
SAIRI seeks to perform research valued by the Canadian allergy community and ensures that the community learns about interesting and groundbreaking discoveries.