The HealthNuts team

Three Murdoch Children’s Research Institute researchers have received 2023 Allergy and Immunology Foundation of Australasia (AIFA) grants that will help accelerate paediatric allergy research in Australia. 

Associate Professor Rachel Peters, Dr Vicki McWilliam and Daniela Ciciulla, of the Population Allergy Group, have been awarded $45,000 across three individual projects. Dr Melanie Wong, AIFA Chair, announced the winners at the ASCIA Conference in Sydney. 

Associate Professor Peters, head of the Group’s epidemiology program, received the AIFA Professor Ann Kupa Food Allergy Research Grant of $20,000 for her project that will describe the prevalence and natural history of cashew allergy to age six and assess whether changing infant feeding practices was effective at preventing cashew allergy.

Allergy expert Associate Professor Rachel Peters

Associate Professor Rachel Peters

Associate Professor Peters said Melbourne had the highest prevalence of food allergy internationally, affecting 10 per cent of one-year-old infants and 4.5 per cent of adolescents.

“In school-age children, cashew allergy is just as prevalent and severe as peanut allergy, but is less likely to be outgrown,” she said. "Research into effective prevention strategies are severely lacking and much less is known about the natural history of cashew compared to peanut allergy.” 

Dr Vicki McWilliam, a clinician-scientist fellow at Murdoch Children’s, senior dietitian at The Royal Children’s Hospital and co-author of the Allergy Friendly Family Cookbook, was awarded $15,000 for the AIFA Food Allergy Research Grant supported by DBV Technologies.

Allergy expert Dr Vicki McWilliam

Dr Vicki McWilliam

Dr McWilliam will lead a randomised controlled trial investigating the safety and efficacy of early and graded introduction of milk via a “milk ladder” to accelerate the resolution of IgE mediated cow’s milk allergy. LgE-mediated reactions typically occur immediately after ingestion. 

A ladder is a graded method of reintroducing whole milk into the diet via low dose processed forms of milk, such as a biscuit or cake, and progressing through steps such as cheese, yoghurt and then finally whole cow’s milk. 

“My team will aim to assess the impact of a home-based graded introduction of cow’s milk compared to the current practice of cow’s milk avoidance on challenge proven cow’s milk allergy, growth, related health care costs, parental anxiety and quality of life at two years of age,” Dr McWilliam said. 

Daniela Ciciulla, a dietitian and Centre for Food Allergy Research PhD Scholar, received one of AIFA’s four new $10,000 Early Career Researcher Grants for her project that aims to identify factors associated with increased risk of eating disorders in individuals with food allergy. 

Allergy researcher Daniela Ciciulla

Daniela Ciciulla

Ms Ciciulla’s recent systematic review published in the Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology: In Practice found there is a link between food allergies and eating disorders

“This will be the first survey of its kind in Australia and will provide valuable insights into factors that can help identify individuals at a higher risk of eating disorders,” Ms Ciciulla said. 

Associate Professor Peters and Dr McWilliam are also members of the National Allergy Centre of Excellence (NACE), and are Centre for Food Allergy Research (CFAR) Associate Investigators. MCRI hosts both national allergy research bodies. 

Find out more about Murdoch Children’s Population Allergy Group, food allergy clinical trials and cohort studies.