Research Areas of Focus

We're searching for solutions to transform food allergy diagnosis and care.

“One of the things we’re doing at the Weiser Center here is setting up for the long-term, to make sure that we’re going to be around to help people and develop not just first generation therapies that might help a few patients, but things that could eventually lead to a fundamental change in how people approach food allergy and approach the therapy and prevention of it.”

James R. Baker, Jr., M.D., Director, Mary H. Weiser Food Allergy Center

Currently, there are no effective therapies to treat food allergy. For patients and their families, their only hope to control this disease is to avoid certain foods and carry an epinephrine auto-injector in case of accidental exposure to allergens. Nothing yet exists to address the underlying abnormal immune responses that cause food allergy.

That’s why our researchers are taking cues from other diseases to develop pioneering approaches to understand, treat and prevent it.

Food allergy lab staff examines a piece of equipment

To understand food allergy, we are:

  • Studying how the immune system works together with the microbiology of the body to see how dysfunction in the lining of the gut could lead to allergic response.
  • Examining how key nutritional factors such as Vitamin A and dietary fiber metabolites regulate the differentiation and activity of immune cells.
A food allergy lab worker pipettes material into test tubes

To treat food allergy, we are:

  • Working to pinpoint the immunological processes that lead to severe food-induced anaphylaxis so that we can design a blood test to predict the severity of a person’s allergic reaction.
  • Studying the relationship between eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), an inflammation of the esophagus, and other types of inflammation in the body that are related to developing food allergies.
  • Conducting clinical trials in oral immunotherapy for peanut allergy to help prevent a serious allergic reaction in the case of accidental exposure to peanuts.
A doctor administers a vaccination to a patient's arm

To prevent food allergy, we are:

  • Exploring how a vaccine could change the body’s immune response to food in just 3 or 4 doses, instead of prolonged exposure therapy that patients face today.

A Multidisciplinary Approach

Illustration of three circles representing three research areas of metabolic, immunological and environmental factors of food allergy

From a scientific perspective, our multidisciplinary approach centers on 3 areas of investigation: metabolic factors, environmental factors, and immunological factors. Learn more about our investigators:


Chang Kim, Ph.D., studies the immune regulatory functions of several key nutritional factors, like Vitamin A, and is exploring immune cell therapy options to treat food allergy, similar to immune cell therapy for cancer. Learn more about Kim’s work.


Catherine Ptaschinski, Ph.D., is examining links between an expectant mother’s microbiome during pregnancy and the likelihood that her child will be food-allergic. She’s also looking at connections between eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE) and food allergy. Learn more about Ptaschinski’s work.

Gary Huffnagle, Ph.D., is studying the microbiome of the intestinal system to develop a better understanding of what goes wrong when the immune system reacts to allergens. Learn more about Huffnagle’s work.

Nick Lukacs, Ph.D., has forged national and global partnerships to study how the immune system develops in babies even before they’re born, and how the human microbiome affects the development of food allergy. Learn more about Lukacs’ work.


James R. Baker, Jr., M.D., and Jessica O’Konek, Ph.D., are making significant progress toward a vaccine that could provide long-term protection against food allergy. Learn more about Baker’s work and O’Konek’s work.

Simon Hogan, Ph.D., is seeking to understand the immunological processes that contribute to the severity of food-induced anaphylaxis and how to switch off these signals. Learn more about Hogan’s work.

Georgiana Sanders, M.D., M.S., is leading clinical trials in food allergy immunotherapy looking at oral immunotherapy, peanut patch therapy and sublingual therapy. Learn more about Sanders’ work.

When it comes to solving the mystery of food allergy, team science has no boundaries or borders. Our researchers also reach out and collaborate with scientists within the university, across the country, and around the world to expand our collective knowledge. Our collaborations include:

  • Alignment with clinical care for food allergy at Michigan Medicine to integrate clinical trials and testing into the cutting-edge research performed by our researchers.
  • Working with U-M inflammatory bowel disease researchers to understand the connection between dysfunctional gastrointestinal tracts and sensitization to foods.
  • Data partnerships and information-sharing with 25 clinical centers nationwide through the Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) network.
  • Partnership with the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands where Danone, the parent company of Dannon yogurt, has an international institute with a strong commitment to food safety and food allergy prevention.