Unique food allergy conference aims to connect clinicians, families with experts

April 28, 2022

5 min read


Disclosures: Gupta reports receiving research support from Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), Genentech, Melchiorre Family Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Sunshine Charitable Foundation, Thermo Fisher Scientific, UnitedHealth Group and the Walder Foundation; serving as a medical consultant/advisor for Aimmune LLC, AllerGenis LLC, FARE, Genentech and Novartis; an holding ownership interest in Yobee Care Inc.; and being employed at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

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Families and clinicians alike often have questions about care when it comes to food allergies, from understanding cutting-edge treatments such as oral immunotherapy to addressing psychosocial burdens such as phobias and bullying.

Answers and more can be found at the Food Allergy Conference for Education & Science (FACES) from June 10 to 11 in Chicago, according to its host, the Center for Food Allergy & Asthma Research (CFAAR) at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

A child practices using an epinephrine autoinjector on a grapefruit during a previous FACES.

“This conference offers something for everyone,” CFAAR director Ruchi Gupta, MD, MPH, told Healio, noting that it will feature separate tracks for adults, teenagers and children, including scientific sessions, networking opportunities and an innovations competition.

The research speakers

Scheduled speakers include allergists and immunologists as well as psychologists, dermatologists, GI doctors, engineers, educators, advocates and many more.

Ruchi Gupta

“We are going to be talking about the latest and greatest research from everywhere,” Gupta, who will be among the speakers, said. “The data is really important because you can see where you are, how you’re not alone, and learn new strategies for management and treatment.”

For example, immunologist Cathryn R. Nagler, PhD, Bunning Family Professor at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, will discuss the role of the microbiome in food allergies.

Dermatologist Peter A. Lio, MD, clinical assistant professor of dermatology and pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, will explore the associations between food allergies and skin disorders.

Denise Bunning, MSED, CAS, cofounder of Mothers of Children Having Allergies, will discuss the resources available to help parents and caregivers work with educators to ensure safer environments at school.

Emily Brown, founder and CEO of Free From Market and the Food Equality Initiative, will tackle disparities in access to allergen-free food and how patients can use data to achieve greater health outcomes.

Jonathan Carroll (D), MA, who serves the 57th District in the Illinois House of Representatives, will speak about the power of policy and advocacy. His legislation has addressed sesame labeling and access to free epinephrine for children.

Licensed clinical psychologist Lisa Lombard, PhD, and licensed clinical professional counselor Tamara HubbardLCPC, will discuss the psychosocial impact that food allergies have on children and families.

Other allergists and immunologists speaking will include Aaron T. Donnell, MD, Brian Schroer, MD, Carina Venter, PhD, RD, Christina E. Ciaccio, MD, MSc, Kelly Newhall, MD, Mahboobeh Mahdavinia, MD, PhD, and Zachary Rubin, MD, along with pediatrician Kristin Kan, MD, MPH, MSc, and more.

“We’re going to be talking about the latest treatment options for kids and adults with food allergies, which I think every parent and every kid wants to know,” Gupta said. “It’s really important for families to know what’s out there and ask questions.”

The kids’ programs

While the grownups attend the scientific panels, adolescents and younger children can take part in a series of programming designed by CFAAR staff and collaborators.

Topics for teens will include preparing for college, navigating young adulthood and life in the workplace or “adulting,” making good decisions, using social media to amplify their voices, managing social situations and how to be an advocate for the food allergy community.

Younger children will have sessions on understanding, managing and talking to their teachers about their allergy.

Sarah Valaika MSCFAAR program coordinator and early childhood specialist, will role play with children about speaking up for themselves and others in school.

Kyle Dine, MMIE, musical performer and food allergy advocate with experience allergy food assemblies in 900 North American schools, and Sarah Boudreau-Romano, MDallergist and director of the Food Allergy Support and Education Program for teens and children at Lurie Children’s, also will lead presentations.

Plus, allergist and immunologist Sai R. Nimmagadda, MD, of Lurie Children’s, will lead an “ask me anything” panel on epinephrine use followed, by demonstrations.

“We collect expired auto-injectors, and we let the kids inject them into a grapefruit and feel more comfortable using epinephrine if they ever need it. Then, we go through the steps with the different auto-injectors, from opening it to injecting it. They realize they don’t see the needle, and it’s quick,” Gupta said. “So many of the kids have told me afterward that they’re not scared to use it anymore. There’s this fear that decreases, and I was so glad.”

acclaim, Melissa Engel, MA, A fourth-year student in the clinical psychology doctoral program at Emory University, will lead teens and younger children in additional role playing.

“Whether it’s bullying in school or a grandparent who doesn’t understand, it happens more than you think,” Gupta said. “She goes through those situations, and they act out those scenarios in front of their peers. It’s very empowering because they get to talk about it.”

Meanwhile, at Can Con, led by young adult food allergy advocates JJ Vulopas and Riya Jainyounger children will be able to learn from each other as they are empowered to better understand and manage their food allergies in a land of “can” instead of “not,” Gupta said.

This year, FACES will introduce its Innovation Showcase, where students from high school through graduate school will be invited to display research and solutions designed to improve the lives of those with food allergy, asthma or other related conditions.

“We’re asking young people to come and show us their ideas. What do they envision for the future? What would they like to see happen in this space?” Gupta said. “When I’ve talked to young people, they are just full of beautiful ideas, because they live with it.”

Judges, including physicians, scientists and entrepreneurs, will review the student displays. Prizes will be awarded in different categories, while Gupta noted the networking possibilities the event will offer.

“Participants will have an opportunity to talk with experts in different spaces, which will be great for them too, because it will give them insight on how to move forward and hopefully build some collaborations,” she said.

Applications for the Innovation Showcase are now being considered.

Time to connect

Beyond education, CFAAR aims to connect doctors and families while building the food allergy community. Breakout panels will foster smaller discussions so attendees can interact more directly with experts.

And after a day full of panels and activities, attendees will get to enjoy a social table tennis at SPIN Chicago, with food, drinks and friendly games of ping pong.

“It will be fun for the kids. They will get to make friends and have a good time, and parents will get to meet each other and socialize in more of a fun environment,” Gupta said.

According to Gupta, the event’s more popular talks will be recorded and posted online for those who are unable to attend. Also, scholarships will be available for those with financial obstacles in attending.

“We want this to be accessible to everyone,” Gupta said, urging doctors not only to attend but to encourage their patients to attend as well because the conference’s benefits extend beyond clinical information.

“One of the most rewarding things ever in these conferences was when a parent and child came up to me and gave me a hug,” Gupta said. “They thanked me because they felt so good and empowered and made so many new friends and weren’t scared anymore.”


For more information:

Ruchi Gupta, MD, MPH, can be reached at cfaarfaces@northwestern.edu.

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