Finding the answer to allergies

19 May 2022
Clinical Trials Day

There has been a dramatic rise in the number of children diagnosed with food allergies over the last two decades, with three in 10 children now developing a food-related allergy or eczema.

Food Technology teacher Jessica Bales has witnessed this increase firsthand and says despite taking every precaution, the possible risk factor to the safety of her students induces stress and anxiety.

“My biggest fear is that there is an undiagnosed allergy and we accidentally include it for a student, or there is a product with an allergen that’s potentially a trigger,” she said.

So, when Jessica learned about a study investigating the occurrence of food allergies in children, she did not hesitate to enquire.

Liam was just three weeks old when Jessica heard about the trial. Her two other children do not have food allergies so there was no reason to suspect her newborn would be susceptible. However, she saw this as an opportunity to make an impact during her time on maternity leave.

“If we can make a difference in some way to understand what has contributed to the rise in food allergies, I could give extra meaning to the year I have off from work,” she said.

After reaching out to the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS) to check eligibility, Liam became the first NSW participant in the trial.

The OPTIMUM Study is looking to determine whether one dose of ‘whole cell’ pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine given at two months of age, instead of the current ‘acellular’ pertussis vaccine can help protect young children against allergic outcomes.

Jessica insists there has been no disruption to Liam’s immunisation schedule or to their family life in general. While, the added attention he’s received at the hospital for his study appointments made her feel safer as the parent of a newborn.

“We had such great support in the preparation but then also afterwards to see how he was going, if there was any adverse reactions. It made the whole process very seamless. I felt very safe in terms of the medical care he was receiving,” she said.

Liam has since passed the 10 month mark of the study and has been on solid foods for a few months now. Jessica says she will be recommending the trial to her pregnant friends.

“I can see how food allergies have impacted my students and while it doesn’t diminish their quality of life, if we can have an understanding of what’s contributing to it, hopefully we can minimise the types of food allergies, so there’s less risk within the community,” she said.

You can find out more about the OPTIMUM Study here or you can contact the study team via email or call 0423 799 327.

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