Below is a list of current Centre for Food & Allergy Research platform of cohort studies which provide a strong evidence base for food allergy prevention guidelines and policy. Click each study title to expand for more information.

This study follows participants through childhood to identify how common food allergy is, when and why it develops (and sometimes disappears), as well as what role it plays in the development of other allergic diseases such as asthma

HealthNuts was the first study in the world to accurately identify how many children have a food allergy. Using oral food challenges – the best diagnostic tool available – this study found that up to 10% of infants have a clinically confirmed food allergy.

HealthNuts asks families about their medical history and their child’s exposure to a range of factors thought to be associated with food allergy. This information will help us understand the genetic and environmental factors involved in food allergies.

Contact: [email protected]

Study design Population-based longitudinal study with clinical measures
Investigators Professor Katrina Allen, Professor Colin Robertson, Professor Mimi Tang, Professor Terry Dwyer, Associate Professor Lyle Gurrin, Doctor Jennifer Koplin, Doctor Adrian Lowe
Time frame 2007 – 2020
Funding source National Health Medical Research Council (grants 491233, 1006215, 1101344); Ilhan Food Allergy Foundation; AnaphylaxiStop; Egg Corporation of Australia; Department of Defense (US)
Location Melbourne, Australia
Sample 5,300 children followed up at 12 months, four years, six years, and next at 10 years
Aims
  • Determine the prevalence of clinically proven food allergy in children
  • Identify food allergy risk factors (including infant feeding practices and vitamin D levels) 
  • Identify genetic and epigenetic markers associated with food allergy
  • Understand the factors involved in developing food tolerance 
  • Investigate the role of infant food allergy on the development of childhood asthma (a process known as the ‘atopic march’)
Methods Infants were initially recruited at immunisation centres around metropolitan Melbourne at their 12-month-old check-up. At this appointment, all infants underwent a skin prick test. One thousand of these infants (including around 200 for the purpose of negative controls) then took part in an oral food challenge and other allergy testing in a hospital-based research environment.
Data collected
  • Parental questionnaire about infant feeding practices, family history of allergic disease, medical history and the home environment
  • Skin prick test
  • Oral food challenge (for those allergic)
  • Eczema measurements (clinic examination, SCORAD)
  • Blood sample (IgE, immunological markers, vitamin D, genetic/epigenetic analysis, peanut protein Ara h2)
  • Respiratory measurements (Spirometry, FeNO) (only at age six)
  • Cheek swab (genetic/epigenetic analysis)
  • Height, weight, waist and head circumference
  • Retinal imagery

This study examines the connection between health and development during early life and subsequent chronic diseases (including allergic ones)

Researchers don’t fully understand the causes of today’s common non-communicable diseases (NCDs) (including allergy, asthma and cardiovascular disease) but many think the answers lie in early life. The BIS researchers hypothesise that the interplay between the modern environment, the microbiome (microbial environment within the human) and the epigenome (the switching of human genes on and off) may be important in the development of NCDs, including allergies. The BIS, in the Barwon region of Victoria, is a unique study that has been carefully designed to investigate how factors in early life contribute to the development of NCDs. Amongst other things, the BIS is interested in the development of the immune system because disruption to this process can lead to allergic diseases such as food allergies.

The BIS will investigate the interplay between early life gut microbiota, the epigenetic control of immune development, and the origins of eczema, food allergy, asthma and cardiovascular disease.

Contact: [email protected]

Study design Population-based birth cohort
Investigators Peter Vuillermin, Mimi Tang, Richard Saffery, Katie Allen, John Carlin, Terry Dwyer, Anne-Louise Ponsonby
Time frame 2010-12; follow-up is ongoing
Funding source National Health and Medical Research Council (grants 607370, 1029927, 1009044, 1030701, 1024619, 1076667)
Location Barwon region, Victoria, Australia
Sample 1,250 infants recruited prenatally with ongoing follow-up
Aims
  • Investigate early life factors on immune development, including the epigenetic resolution (gene silencing or activation) of immune genes
  • Investigate the role of early life factors on the risk of food allergy
Methods Pregnant women were recruited at 10-20 weeks of pregnancy
Data collected
  • Parental questionnaire about diet, supplements, infant feeding practices and the home environment
  • Skin prick test
  • Lung function
  • Eczema
  • Placental blood
  • Blood sample (genetic analysis, immunological and nutritional markers)
  • Urine and stool samples
  • Hair
  • Height and weight
  • Skin type

This study investigates how a woman’s diet during pregnancy affects the development of her child’s immune system and risk of developing allergic diseases such as food allergy and eczema.

The rapid increase in immune-mediated diseases such as food allergies during the last 40 years supports the idea that environmental changes affect our immune system by turning ‘on’ or ‘off’ certain genes. There is a pressing need to identify which genes are involved in this process, what factors contribute to this, and the exact way in which these changes affect our immune system and risk of disease.

EPIGEN will compare what mothers of children with and without food allergy and eczema ate during pregnancy to determine what effect certain nutrients (such as folate and vitamin D) play in the development of allergic disease.

Contact: [email protected]

Study design Prospective longitudinal cohort study
Investigators Susan Prescott
Time frame 2011-2015
Funding source National Health and Medical Research Council (grant 10002381)
Location Perth, Australia
Sample 350 mothers and their babies
Aims
  • Identify developmental differences in gene expression patterns in children who develop food allergy and eczema
  • Examine for developmental epigenetic differences in allergic and non-allergic children with age, with a particular focus on genomic DNA methylation patterns
  • Examine epigenetic variations and functional gene expression in relation to key early environmental exposures
Methods 350 pregnant women will be recruited from antenatal clinics and classes at private and public hospitals in Perth. Maternal blood will be collected at 36-40 weeks gestation and cord blood will be collected at birth, with clinical follow up of children at four months and then one, two and five years of age.
Data collected
  • Maternal questionnaire about diet, lifestyle clinical disease and the home environment
  • Sensitisation to foods and aero-allergens using skin prick testing
  • Eczema (examination, SCORAD)
  • Asthma Blood sample (IgE, immunological markers, genetic analysis)

This study will investigate how common food allergy is in 10-14 year olds and when teenagers are most likely to accidentally eat foods they are allergic to.

Teenagers have the highest risk of dying from anaphylaxis – the most severe form of food allergy. However, very little research has examined food allergies in this particular age group.

SchoolNuts will compare the health and development of teenagers with and without a food allergy as well as their knowledge of, and attitudes towards food allergies. SchoolNuts will visit students at school. Teenagers who self-report a food allergy will visit hospital for clinical allergy testing.

Contact: [email protected]

Study design Population-based cross-sectional study
Investigators Katie Allen, Shyamali Dharmage, Mimi Tang, Susan Sawyer, Lyle Gurrin, Jennifer Koplin
Time frame 2013-15
Funding source National Health and Medical Research Council (grant 1047396); Asthma Foundation of Victoria
Location Melbourne, Australia
Sample 10,000 participants aged 10-14 years
Aims
  • Determine the prevalence of food allergy in 10-14 year olds
  • Determine risk factors for adverse reactions in those with a food allergy (e.g. asthma control, attitudes to food allergy, pubertal status)
  • Assess the impact of food allergy on quality of life
  • Determine clinical predictors of food challenge outcomes
Methods A random selection of schools in metropolitan Melbourne have been selected to participate in SchoolNuts. Teenagers complete a questionnaire at school. Those who self-report having a food allergy undergo clinical testing at a hospital-based research setting.
Data collected
  • Parental questionnaire about food reaction history, family and child history of allergies (food allergy, eczema, asthma and hay fever)
  • Student questionnaire about knowledge of and attitudes towards food allergy, quality of life, pubertal status
  • Skin prick test
  • Oral food challenge
  • Respiratory measurements (spirometry)
  • Eczema measurements (clinic examination, SCORAD)
  • Blood sample (IgE, immunological markers)
  • Height and weight

This study followed children with a family history of allergic disease from birth until 18 years to identify things that increase or decrease the risk of an allergic disease developing.

Twenty-five years ago when MACS started, it tested the connections between different types of infant formula and the development of allergic disease. It then became a broader study examining why allergic diseases (and in particular asthma) were on the rise. Today it is one of the world’s leading studies into the environmental and genetic risk factors for childhood asthma and allergies.

MACS asked families about their child’s health, medical history and exposure to risk factors. It also regularly tested these children for the presence of allergic conditions such as asthma and food sensitisation. Plans are now underway to follow up MACS participants when they turn 25, as well as following up their siblings.

Contact: [email protected]

Study design Longitudinal family study in a high-risk cohort
Investigators Shyamali Dharmage, Adrian Lowe, Caroline Lodge, Michael Abramson, Katie Allen, John Hopper, Melanie Matheson, Lyle Gurrin
Time frame 1990-20; follow-up is ongoing
Funding source National Health and Medical Research Council (grant 454856, 1079668 )
Location  Melbourne, Australia
Sample 620 infants recruited prenatally with ongoing follow-up of the entire family
Aims
  • Describe the natural history of childhood allergic diseases
  • Investigate environmental and genetic risk factors associated with allergic diseases
  • Investigate the associations between different types of infant formula and allergic conditions
  • Define differing types (“phenotypes”) of allergic disease
  • Investigate how environmental exposures and genetic predisposition may combine to influence the risk of allergic disease
Methods Children (whilst in utero) were recruited from families where the mother, father and/or siblings had a history of allergic disease (e.g. eczema, asthma, hay fever and/or food allergy). They were recruited from antenatal clinics in Victoria between 1990 and 1994. After birth, MACS conducted intensive follow-up of the children (every four weeks during the first 64 weeks of their life, then at 78 weeks, then annually between two and seven years of age, and then again at 12, and 18 years). Other family members have also been followed up.
Data collected
  •  Parental questionnaires about the family’s social and economic demographics, allergic conditions in the child, parents and siblings, parental smoking, pets at the start of the study, food and feeding practices and food reaction history
  • Infant blood sample. Cord immunoglobulin measurements
  • Colostrum and breast milk samples
  • Skin prick tests
  • Questionnaires completed by all family members (from when child was 18 years old) about social and economic demographics, allergy/illness related questions, activity, general health, psychological health and reproductive health
  • Respiratory measurements (lung function testing, FeNO, EBC)
  • Eczema measurements (clinic examination, SCORAD, TEWL, palmar linearity assessment)
  • Blood sample (allergic responses, inflammatory markers, genetic/epigenetic markers)
  • Height, weight, hip and waist circumference
  • New to current follow-up
  • Retinal photographs (photographs of the back of the eyes)
  • Bioimpedance
  • Blood pressure
  • Microbiome samples (collecting the communities of microorganisms that every person normally has on, or in, their bodies)