Trend Watch: Another Funder Steps Up to Curb the Epidemic of Pediatric Food Allergies

Allergies, of course, are not just about runny noses. Some, like food allergies, are potentially life threatening, and for reasons that elude scientists, this dangerous category of allergies has been rising sharply among U.S. kids, increasing 50 percent since 1997. Similar increases have occured in Europe, as well, where hospital admissions of children with severe allergic reactions have increased seven-fold in the last decade.  

Recent philanthropy is a yardstick of this fast-growing global problem. We've been tracking these trends, and have reported on several major initiatives by philanthropists like Facebook billionaire Sean Parker, who suffers from such allergies himself, and other givers who have family members with food allergies.

Many of these philanthropists have put up substantial sums to establish allergy nonprofits, or to expand allergy research centers at top medical centers around the country. Parker, for instance, gave Stanford University School of Medicine $24 million to create a new research center. David Koch has also given for food allergies. 

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Now, a Los Angeles-area philanthropist has joined the club. Children's Hospital Los Angeles recently announced a $5 million commitment from Tom Gores and his wife, Holly, to establish a pediatric allergy treatment center at the medical center.

Gores, an investor with an estimated net worth of $2.5 billion, founded Beverly Hills-based Platinum Equity, and is also owner of the NBA's Detroit Pistons. As is often the case, the Gores philanthropy is a family affair: Their son has severe food allergies. In 2013, the Gores' daughters founded a charitable fundraising entity called EpiPals in partnership with CHLA. EpiPals has since raised more than $1 million for the hospital in support of education and awareness campaigns, and distribution of EpiPens to underserved Los Angeles communities.

The new Gores Family Allergy Center will be based in CHLA's Division of Clinical Immunology and Allergy. It expands clinical treatment for children with severe and life-threatening allergies, particularly food allergies like the peanut allergies that seem to have swept through the most recent generation of schoolkids.

The Gores center, the first of its kind in Los Angeles, also expands CHLA's treatment capabilities with the additions of a physician allergist, a dietician, a psychologist and a registered nurse. They'll coordinate clinical studies focused on innovative treatment approaches, and reach out to schools to educate staff and students about allergies.

"In the United States alone, nearly six million children under the age of 18 suffer from a food allergy," said CHLA president and CEO Paul S. Viviano, in a press release. "For some of these children, a chance brush with trace amounts of the wrong food can place them in a battle for their lives."

The hope is that researchers can uncover the factors causing the immune systems of so many children and adults to go haywire. After all, immune health is relevant to all fields of medicine, and any mysterious threat to this most fundamental part of our biology is a threat to everyone—not just those with diagnosed allergies.