June 22, 2022

Researchers convene for MHWFAC symposium

Ann Arbor — Dozens of researchers from academia and industry gathered in Ann Arbor on June 1-2 for the third annual M-FARA research conference.

“Advancing the Science of Food Allergy” was the first in-person symposium hosted by the Mary H. Weiser Food Allergy Center (MHWFAC) at the University of Michigan, following virtual events in 2020 and 2021.

Scientists and advocates from the University of Michigan and institutions nationwide met for four plenary sessions: 

  • ·       Clinical phenotypes of food allergy responses
  • ·       Mechanisms in food allergy
  • ·       Novel approaches for detection and treatment of food allergy  
  • Intervention and treatment of food allergy in the clinics                           

The conference featured a total of 15 presentations by speakers from institutions such as Harvard University, Stanford University, and the National Institutes of Health – as well as MHWFAC faculty -- on topics ranging from T cells, the gut microbiome and the study of birth cohorts to vaccines and immunotherapy.

“This was the first in-person food allergy research meeting in the United States in the past three years,” said James R. Baker Jr., MD, director of the MHWFAC.  “We brought together a notable group of scientists and clinicians to address the fundamental issues of this difficult disease. It was reassuring to see that progress had been made during the pandemic and that new efforts were kickstarted by this remarkable assembly.”

Enrollees ranged from University of Michigan clinicians and researchers to physician-scientists from national food allergy centers such as Stanford and Harvard Universities, and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, as well as representatives of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Regional institutions were also in attendance including Henry Ford Health System, Oakland University and Sparrow Health.

Industry participants included representatives of biotech leaders Aimmune, Blue Willow Biologics, Genentech and Opsidio, among others. 

Feedback about the scientific value of the presentations was enthusiastic.  

“The format allowed for in-depth discussions surrounding the many challenges that remained in the field, but still gave us a chance to appreciate the promising research that could help address these challenges,” said Samir Patel, founder of Moonlight Therapeutics and a speaker at the conference.

“I appreciated the networking time to discuss some of the latest work in the field in a small group or one-on-one format,” Patel said. Having the symposium at the center also allowed us to see the great research being done there and meet directly with the faculty and staff. I look forward to attending next year's symposium.”

Other audience members included students and advocates such as Lindsay Schultz, founder of FeedYourCan LLC and the mother of children with food allergies.

“This forum was thoughtfully designed to allow researchers to come together and deepen the collective end-to-end understanding of food allergy,” said Schultz. “As a parent of three kids who navigate eight categories of food allergies, I left the symposium feeling energized and ready for the future. Thank you for this exemplary leadership promoting advancements in food allergy."

A poster session featuring more than 20 presenters was held midday on June 2, both resulting in lively discussion and networking among the scientists. 

Video of the presentations will be posted shortly on the center’s YouTube channel as an enduring resource for scientists and learners. 

M-FARA research symposia are made possible by a gift from an anonymous donor.  The 2023 event is scheduled for June 7-8 in Ann Arbor.