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Southern California Food Allergy Institute brings innovative treatment to first clinic in San Diego

Posted at 7:08 AM, May 19, 2022

VISTA, Calif. (KGTV) -- The standard treatment for food allergies has been no treatment. Instead, people are typically told to stay away from those foods, but the Southern California Food Allergy Institute based in Long Beach has come up with a pioneering way to treat patients who have food allergies.

At the institute’s new clinic in Vista, lead physician Dr. Tracy Clark talks about why their approach to food allergies is groundbreaking.

Clark said, “It's using food to treat food allergies which sounds really simple.”

Clark said the institute’s founder and CEO, Dr. Inderpal Randhawa, started by gathering large amounts of data on patients with food allergies.

“We look at over 400 different bio markers. We look at blood testing, skin testing, we look at patch testing. We look at the state of their immune system,” said Clark.

They use data from thousands as a backdrop for how to personalize each patient's treatment.

Clark said, “Food allergy isn't something where, ‘OK, if you have a peanut allergy, I treat you exactly the same as everybody else.’”

Meaning one size does not fit all, and San Diego mom Dana Safadi knows that all too well.

“Since the day he was born, he always had eczema,” Safadi said.

Her son Jonathan is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, sesame, certain fruits and wheat.

“It was a hamburger bun and he reacted so bad, he almost … we had to take him to the hospital. He had an anaphylactic reaction,” said Safadi.

Jonathan was eight months old when he was diagnosed. He was so allergic he couldn't even touch those foods. The diagnosis meant a childhood of exclusion.

“Snacks, birthday parties, events at school even like science experiments ... simple things that we don't think about,” Safadi said. “The answer I got throughout the years until he was nine years old is avoid the food or the allergen, here's an EpiPen and you're on your own pretty much.”

Two years ago, when Jonathan was nine, the family heard about the institute.

Clark said they use foods with a similar protein structure to slowly teach the immune system not to react to a target allergen. In the case of peanut, they can use soy, pea, or chickpea protein, for example. But for the highly allergic, these need to be doled out in tiny amounts.

“So, we actually gelatinized them into gummy bears or different shapes in a way so they can be easily eaten at home,” Clark said.

Various colors for different foods, various shapes for different doses, taking out the guesswork for parents who otherwise would be tasked with measuring out minuscule amounts accurately.

Safadi calls the gummies a blessing and says the treatment is starting to work.

She added, “Absolutely, it meant a life-changing experience for us. Simple things, taking a road trip.”

For the first time last fall, Jonathan ate at an In-N-Out Burger. He's not ready for a wheat bun yet, but he used to be so sensitive, eating food that had been near or touching wheat would make him react.

“That just made my heart so happy, and I was so thankful,” said Safadi.

Clark said they have a 99 percent success rate, but they don't call it a cure.

“We don't call it a cure yet because we need more research to know that it's absolutely gone,” Clark said. “Right now, we call it remission.”

Jonathan and his family can't wait for that day. His mom said that would mean food freedom.

“Eat what you want, wherever you want, and however you want it to be, that's what our goal is,” Safadi said.

Safadi said Jonathan has about two and a half years of treatment left.

Clark said the typical length of treatment is two to three years.

Once patients hit remission, SoCal Food Allergy Institute tracks them to make sure they're doing OK.

They say they have treated more than 10,000 patients, some coming from other states and countries.