For more than a decade, Demarest (Demi) Isenstadt and her family have provided pivotal philanthropic support for food allergy research at MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC). Their reasons are rooted in how Qian Yuan, MD, PhD, cared for Ms. Isenstadt’s son, Henry, more than a decade ago.
Henry was an infant when he was first brought to see the pediatric gastroenterologist. The boy had been crying inconsolably. He resisted nursing and vomited after he did. Without sufficient nutrition, he wasn’t thriving.
“Their gifts have allowed us to carry out key initiatives and research trials early on before we had a lot of other support.”
Dr. Yuan began treating Henry for what turned out to be a difficult case of gastroesophageal reflux. “We were beside ourselves with worry,” Ms. Isenstadt recalls. “But over the course of the next few months under Dr. Yuan’s care, Henry turned the corner.”
Tangley Lloyd, Ms. Isenstadt’s mother, was also impressed. “People like him don’t get enough pats on the back,” she says of Dr. Yuan.
In gratitude, the family and their Demarest Lloyd, Jr. Foundation began supporting the research of Dr. Yuan, who specializes in gastrointestinal food allergies. Through the years, their generosity has expanded to include other Food Allergy Center researchers.
Stepping Stone to Other Grants
At a time when food allergies are on the rise nationwide, “their support has been foundational,” says Wayne Shreffler, MD, PhD, who was recruited to launch the Food Allergy Center (FAC) eight years ago and is now its director. “Their gifts have allowed us to carry out key initiatives and research trials early on before we had a lot of other support,” adds Dr. Shreffler, who is also chief of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at MGHfC.
Indeed, when Dr. Shreffler wanted to test how it is that oral immunotherapy — a strategy of gradually adding small amounts of the offending food back into the diet until it is tolerated — can effectively treat food allergies for some but not others, the family helped fund the first clinical trial. Currently there is still no approved treatment for food allergies other than to eliminate the offending food from the diet.
The FAC was recently named one of seven U.S. centers to be in the National Institutes of Health’s Consortium of Food Allergy Research, and will receive a $6 million research grant as a result. The data from that first study supported by Ms. Lloyd’s family was an integral stepping stone for the FAC to get such federal grants.
Rising Food Allergies
Much of Dr. Yuan’s research focuses on gastrointestinal forms of food allergy, including esosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), a chronic inflammation of the esophagus, and allergic colitis of infancy. Like other food allergies, these conditions appear to be on the rise.
Together, Drs. Yuan and Shreffler received a three-year $300,000 grant from the Gerber Foundation to track 1,000 newborns from birth to identify changes in the microbiome that are related to the development of food allergy. All 1,000 have now been enrolled and the data gathered promise new insights into the development of multiple forms of food allergy.
“Why didn’t Henry have a reaction for the first nine years of his life? What are these strange interrelationships of allergies? Eventually they will find the answers through research.”
When the family and their foundation began supporting his research, “no one was doing this kind of food allergy research and there were no food allergy clinics,” recalls Dr. Yuan, who is now clinical director of the FAC.
Ms. Isenstadt and Ms. Lloyd felt strongly about supporting the Food Allergy Center even though Henry wasn’t diagnosed with a food allergy until three years ago. On a family ski trip, he had a serious reaction to pistachio nuts. His face and lips swelled beyond recognition and hives covered his face. It’s the kind of experience that many families now face.
Answers Through Research
The fact that Henry has eczema and asthma as well as other allergies certainly fits with what Drs. Yuan and Shreffler have been finding out about the interrelatedness of allergies and immune-related disorders.
“It all comes back to research,” Ms. Isenstadt emphasizes. “Why didn’t Henry have a reaction for the first nine years of his life? What are these strange interrelationships of allergies? Eventually they will find the answers through research.”
For the second year in a row, Ms. Isenstadt and her husband are co-chairing MGHfC’s Storybook Ball, planned for October 14, 2017. This year, the gala is showcasing the Food Allergy Center. As part of a $1 million gift, the Demarest Lloyd, Jr. Foundation is offering a challenge grant and will match all new donations up to $200,000.
“Seeing how hard the doctors, nurses and staff work to help children has compelled us to continue our giving,” Ms. Lloyd says. “Our children and grandchildren are very fortunate to have Mass General.”
To learn how you can support the FAC, please contact us.