The Robyn Allen Leadership Award recognizes an individual who has made a unique contribution to the lives of Canadians with food allergy through their efforts in education, advocacy, community building, leadership, or fundraising.
The award is in memory of Robyn Allen, a beautiful young girl who passed away from an anaphylactic reaction in 1990, just months before her 16th birthday. A lack of awareness of the severity of anaphylaxis contributed to her death and her parents, Marilyn and Bob, have made it their mission to ensure that Robyn’s story continues to be a beacon of awareness, encouraging others to strive to better the lives of those with potentially life-threatening allergy.
Dr. Edmond S. Chan: Winner of the 2019 Robyn Allen Leadership Award
Dr. Edmond Chan is a certified practicing pediatric allergist, UBC Clinical Associate Professor, and Head of the Division of Allergy & Immunology in the Department of Pediatrics at BC Children’s Hospital where he sees patients. He created the UBC Pediatric Clinical Immunology and Allergy fellowship training program and was its first program director. He is a Clinical Investigator at the BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute. He is on the board of directors of the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (CSACI), on the Executive of the Allergy Section of the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS), a member of Food Allergy Canada’s Healthcare Advisory Board and is involved in the National Food Allergy Action Plan.
Currently, Dr. Chan is co-leading the team developing Canadian clinical practice guidelines on the treatment of food allergy with oral immunotherapy (OIT). He is a co-author of the CPS practice point on the introduction of allergenic foods, a co-author for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) guidelines on the prevention of peanut allergy and the principal author of the CPS/CSACI food allergy prevention position statement.
Dr. Chan demonstrates his passion for pediatric allergy through the care he provides his patients, and his desire to make improvements in the field of food allergy through research in allergy prevention and treatment.
We recently spoke with Dr. Chan further on this award and his commitment to Canadians with food allergy.
Congratulations Dr. Chan on the well-deserved award! What drives your commitment to the food allergy community? Are you personally impacted by food allergy?
I’m not personally affected by food allergy. My commitment starts with loving pediatric allergy and the very strong passion for pediatric allergy that I discovered as a trainee. When I started independent practice, that interest in food allergy became even stronger.
Food allergy appealed to me in so many ways, as I felt it was a field that I could contribute to and one that didn’t immediately involve a discussion of medication. With a lot of the other conditions I was seeing, the conversation with families too quickly gravitated towards medications to control the symptoms. Whereas, with food allergy, other than having an epinephrine auto-injector available, a lot of the discussion started with accurate diagnosis. I found it refreshing that way and how I could help improve a family’s quality of life in that process.
Also, during my journey as a practicing pediatric allergist there have been so many changes in the way we understand food allergy and the way we practice it, which I found very motivating. For example, prevention of peanut allergy in infants and the treatment of food allergy for those living with the condition, such as OIT, is completely different from the way I practiced as a new graduate.
Ultimately, the subject material really excites me and my passion for it fuels that commitment. All the collaborations I have with so many wonderful people around the world have really enhanced that commitment as well – knowing that there are others who share this same passion and are trying to solve the same problems. It’s great that we can come together and work toward our common goal in food allergy.
What advancements in food allergy research excite you, and that the food allergy community can look forward to? Where do you see the research headed in food allergy?
The prevention part has really excited me for quite some time and it’s great knowing that we have found a way to prevent some of the kids in the next generation from developing food allergy. Where there still needs to be a lot of work with that is the implementation of early introduction of foods, and that continues to excite me.
The other thing is that treatment of food allergy is such a new concept. When I first started practice, guidance was to simply avoid what you’re allergic to, and use an epinephrine auto-injector. Now, not only are we studying OIT, and starting to apply it to practice, but there’s other forms of food immunotherapy – there’s epicutaneous immunotherapy in which a patch containing a food allergen is applied to the skin, potentially other immunotherapy delivery systems, biologic medications, and other medications to facilitate food immunotherapy. There’s a lot of hope that I can see on the horizon for those living with food allergy. Even if some of these treatments are a few years away, I feel the hope alone is exciting for me as a pediatric allergist as well as for the patients that I see.
For diagnosis, the oral food challenge (OFC) has been the gold standard, where an allergist gives a patient increasing amounts of the food they may be allergic to, in timed intervals. These may be done to confirm if someone has a food allergy or if they’ve outgrown it. Recently, we’ve published research on some of the barriers to more OFCs being done, barriers which are quite significant. In the future, there could be certain tests that reduce the need for OFCs, for example, certain kinds of blood tests. There is a lot of research on the horizon to be excited about.
What research are you currently working on? What are your research goals for the future?
My research team is starting to discuss whether we will do research with epitope mapping. That’s something that has excited me quite recently, by considering how that may change some of the diagnostic pathways for the patients that I see, starting in research, but hopefully downstream eventually in clinical practice.
In terms of the OFC, we’re always studying ways to use the procedure in a more efficient manner, or in a way that delivers it to those who need it the most. In research, it’s mandatory to do an OFC before you start OIT, but in the real world, there may be insufficient resources for that. We’re looking at how can we carefully select those patients who are good candidates for OIT, and within that subgroup, how can we additionally categorize which ones would truly need a baseline food challenge. So, there’s even ways to use our current investigations in perhaps a better way. My research goal for the future would be continuing to improve treatment, given research showing persistent obstacles in wider adoption of OFCs. We’ll have to think of how we’re going to better target the limited number of oral challenge appointment slots to those who would benefit the most from it.
Some of the other research topics we’re studying include other aspects of oral immunotherapy implementation, better implementation of early introduction of allergenic foods for prevention, E-Health tools, food allergy associated anxiety, and the interaction between food allergy and eosinophilic esophagitis. We are also a clinical trial site for epicutaneous immunotherapy.
Is there anything you would like to add?
I feel the fostering of strong collaborations is really important in any medical area, but especially in food allergy where there’s often a lot of misconceptions. I’ve worked with Food Allergy Canada on several projects including presenting webinars for healthcare professionals on early food introduction and research related to parental anxiety. The work I do with the organization is really important, and as we’ve grown to collaborate more and more, I feel the foundation of that is essential to working and communicating well together and to respecting each other.
I want to thank Food Allergy Canada for being such a pleasure to work with in all those respects, I’m very humbled and thankful to receive this award. I would also like to thank Marilyn Allen for all the tireless work she has done for food allergy advocacy in Canada. I recently had the opportunity to spend time with Marilyn during the launch of our National Food Allergy Action Plan in Ottawa and was reminded of, and very touched by, her journey and all her hard work. I feel it is extremely important that we don’t forget Robyn’s story, and do everything we can to prevent others from the same experience. Also, I would like to thank my wife, son, and mother for always supporting me in all the work that I do.
Another thing I’d like to say is that I started my allergy journey as a clinician, more than a researcher. When I was in undergrad, I had a lot of desire to do research, but when I was doing clinical training, it shifted more toward clinical work and in my career journey of having done so many different things, including teaching, research and administration, I like to bring everything back to where I started in the allergy journey, which is in the clinic. There are few things I find more rewarding than being able to be in the clinical setting, seeing my patients and their parents, and sharing how my research work translates to what we’re going to do for the care of their child. It’s also gratifying when parents in clinic comment on how they are very appreciative of all the research we’re working on, so that the whole patient community can benefit from it. These moments make it all worthwhile, “connect the dots”, and validate the time that is needed to do this type of work in terms of advocacy, policy changes, research, fundraising, at the same time as continuing to see patients in clinic.
Congratulations on being this year’s Robyn Allen Leadership Award recipient, Dr. Chan. Your many contributions are making such an impact and helping to significantly improve the lives of Canadians living with food allergy!
Editor’s note: Epitope mapping is currently a research tool that potentially provides a more accurate and personalized “food allergy test” result, by identifying intricate patterns of binding between a patient’s allergic antibodies and very small sequences within the food protein.
Learn more about the nominees below and past recipients of this award.
AllerGen NCE Inc. is a national research network dedicated to improving the quality of life of people with allergic and related immune diseases. Since 2005, AllerGen has contributed significantly to the understanding of food allergy, anaphylaxis and other related conditions through its research efforts. The insights from AllerGen research have important implications for national food allergy management policy and practice.
Anne Zok, Nutrition Manager for Hospitality Services at Western University in Ontario
Anne is involved in a number of initiatives on campus to promote food allergy awareness and understanding. She was also a key stakeholder in the development of our guide for post-secondary institutions, and mentored Brescia University College graduate students in creating a detailed Allergen Risk Management program plan for Western.
Comité Santé, the Health Committee at École des Cheminots in Delson, Québec
Comité Santé is composed of parents and staff members who have made significant efforts to raise food allergy awareness and make the school a safer environment for students with food allergy.
Dr. Julia Upton
Dr. Upton is actively involved in food allergy research and increasing food allergy awareness. She is on staff at the Hospital for Sick Children in the Immunology and Allergy department; and is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Toronto. She is Chair of the Anaphylaxis and Food Allergy Section of the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, and a member of Food Allergy Canada’s Healthcare Advisory Board. She often contributes to our webinars and newsletters, helping to inform and educate the food allergy community.
Dr. Waleed Alqurashi
Dr. Waleed Alqurashi is dedicated to improving the care provided to children with anaphylaxis and is a strong advocate of clinician, patient, and family education. He is a pediatric emergency physician at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), a clinician investigator with the CHEO Research Institute and an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Ottawa.
Marie-Josée shifted her focus from practicing law to supporting families struggling with food allergy after she became a parent of a son with multiple food allergies. She developed an informational website called Déjouer les allergies, and co-authored three books on food allergy. She is also a food allergy spokesperson in Quebec and an active member in several committees dedicated to food allergy.
Pauline is an active parent and member in the food allergy community. She has shown extraordinary leadership and dedication to the advancement of food allergy awareness and education through her blog, Facebook group, and allergen-free restaurant, Hype Foods Co. She is also one of our community advocates.
UBC Food Services
UBC Food Services has made significant contributions to ensure students with food allergy feel safe making food choices on University of British Columbia’s campus. They have implemented a mandatory food allergy awareness training for employees, invested in a dedicated food station free from most of the priority allergens in their dining hall, and implemented a stock epinephrine program.
Do you know an individual or group who has shown extraordinary leadership and dedication in the advancement of food allergy awareness and education? Consider nominating them for next year’s Robyn Allen Leadership Award. Stay tuned for the 2020 application.