The data on food allergy and gluten-related disorders is staggering. Over the past decade alone there has been a 50% rise in the number of children with food allergies. It is currently estimated that 1 in 13 children, or roughly two in every classroom, suffer from food allergies. New cases of celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten, have doubled every fifteen years. Food allergies and gluten-related disorders are on the rise and experts still can't agree on the cause.
Food allergies and disorders not only carry health risks, but also carry a heavy emotional burden as patients attempt to navigate everyday life safely. Going on a trip, attending a birthday party, or even simply going out to dinner are all activities that most take for granted, but can be a source of fear and anxiety for those that suffer from food allergies and disorders. Moreover, food allergies and disorders carry broad social, emotional, and financial implications that go well beyond the patient. Families, friends, schools and communities all have to adapt as well.
While there have been incredible advancements in finding a solution for food allergy and celiac disease in recent years, efforts have been constrained by technological and scientific limitations. Currently, there are no guaranteed solutions for patients except for strict avoidance of trigger foods.
Existing efforts have focused either on curing the patient or modifying the actual food to prevent reactions from happening in the first place.
On the patient side, immunotherapies are being developed in the hopes of retraining the patient’s immune system by slowly introducing allergens in microdoses. Immunotherapies can come in the form of OIT (oral immunotherapy), subcutaneous patches, and medications. In addition, preventative measures have focused on early introduction of allergens, which research has show could prevent the onset of food allergies altogether. For celiac disease, immunotherapies and other drugs are in early stages of development.
Rather than treating each individual patient, some are instead focusing on the source: the food. Efforts in this space include silencing genes and removing allergenic proteins to prevent an immune response from happening. The main challenges with these approaches are the lack of data on the exact source of the triggers and the complexity of making changes to plants while keeping their functionality in tact.
At Ukko, we are bringing a new perspective to the problem by looking at the plant and the patient simultaneously, and using the learnings from one to better understand the other. We are drawing together disparate fields that are often studied separately, including human immunology, computational biology, and plant science to connect the dots in a unique way.
Our mission is to improve the lives of millions suffering from life-threatening food allergies and disorders. We’re just getting started. Stay tuned for more updates.
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