Scientists devise new on-line calculator to predict food allergies in children

An on-line calculator that predicts, within seconds, the presence of the three major food allergies in children has been developed by researchers at University College Cork.  They have devised a new 'Cork-Southampton calculator' that gives 96% accuracy compared to current methods that are 61% -81% accurate.  The research will be published online tomorrow (Thursday, 3rd March)  in the leading international allergy journal, Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology.

Food allergies have increased over the past decade as has the number of patients and parents seeking diagnosis.  Double-blind, placebo-controlled food challenges are the gold standard for diagnosing food allergy, but they are time-consuming, costly and, often, a source of parental and medical fear that a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) might occur during a food challenge.  In addition, not all clinical facilities have the staff or resources to carry out high quality food challenges. 

The two Cork researchers, Dr Audrey DunnGalvin and Professor Jonathan Hourihane of the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health devised a highly accurate, allergen-specific algorithims for each of the most important food types (cow's milk, egg, peanut). The mathematical model consisted of   known or suspected predictors that when combined greatly increased the accuracy of the final model.   The researchers reasoned and proved that the more clinical information that could be considered, the more accurate the predictive model would be.

They looked at the outcomes of combinations of data on clinical factors (skin prick test, allergen specific IgE in serum, total IgE, allergic reaction history, sex and age). The researchers then compared those to the results of the children's food challenges.  From this analysis, they developed an effective prediction model, a 'calculator' of a positive food challenge that was a more accurate predictor than individual allergy tests.

This new calculator will improve the quality of life of parents and patients (on average seven years old) and will reduce significantly the cost of food allergy tests.   "Young children can find the normal food allergy tests quite stressful and this test will take a lot of the distress out of the process, even just by delaying a challenge until the odds of passing it improve over time, which is the norm." says Dr Audrey DunnGalvin.  "It has also implications for oral immunotherapy where clinicians try to desensitise children to their allergies by giving them controlled doses of the food to which they are allergic.  The Cork-Southampton calculator will help assess appropriate stop/continue/ maintenance points in this treatment." 

"Conventional food allergy tests are less than perfect but the UCC patented diagnostic is very reliable and should replace uncertainty with certainty for many doctors treating children with food allergy,"  says Kevin Dalton of UCC's Office of Technology Transfer. "We foresee a commercial product being launched this year resulting in better patient care and substantial savings for the healthcare service."

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