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.
We are excited to feature this year’s winner, Dr. Julia Upton, a Canadian allergist who is on staff at the Hospital for Sick Children in the Immunology and Allergy department, an Associate Professor in the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Toronto, past Section Chair of the Anaphylaxis and Food Allergy Section of the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, and a member of our Healthcare Advisory Board.
Dr. Upton has shown tremendous dedication to advancing food allergy awareness and education of patients, families, and the public, while also increasing allergy awareness among medical colleagues. She is actively involved in research focused on food desensitization therapies, allergy diagnostics, and the recognition and treatment of immunodeficiencies. She has also exhibited exceptional leadership through her involvement with our organization, as a valued member of our healthcare advisory board, an expert guest in numerous educational webinars, a medical reviewer, and as a contributor to our “Ask the allergist” newsletter series. Her accomplishments are many and she is a true champion of the food allergy community.
We spoke with Dr. Upton about this well-deserved award and her commitment to the field of food allergy and treatment.
Congratulations Dr. Upton on the well-deserved award! What sparked your interest in food allergy, and what drives your passion and commitment to the food allergy community?
Thank you so much. It is truly an honour to be recognized by Food Allergy Canada and to contribute to the mission of the Allen family.
Food is central to health, nutrition, and so many social aspects of life. In medical training, I furthered my understanding of how much food allergy affects every part of a person’s life. I was struck by how much we can help people by providing education and accurate diagnoses. Furthermore, it seemed we treated everyone the same way and maybe there could be ways to help people make more informed choices about risk. Talk of food allergy treatments was beginning to gain attention when I was training, and it was very exciting to think we could have more treatment options than just strict avoidance. From a scientific lens, I wanted to understand better why the immune system would decide to have such a strong reaction against foods and how we can help change that.
What advances in food allergy treatment and research excite you, and what can the food allergy community look forward to?
Progress in the areas of prevention and treatment of food allergy is inspiring. It is very exciting to know that we can prevent some children from having a peanut allergy by the early introduction of peanut with ongoing inclusion in the diet, or the same with other common allergens. Treatment continues to be of importance as this approach will not prevent all allergy from developing. For children and adults with food allergy, I am excited there are active treatment options, such as immunotherapy, which many people are working to make more available.
We can look forward to wider availability and safer treatments, and I expect there will be food allergy treatments with medications. We can also expect better severity prediction to help inform management of the condition.
What food allergy research are you currently working on? What are your research goals for the future?
My research broadly involves diagnosis, severity prediction and treatments. I’m trying to find ways to bring food allergy treatments more accessible by researching simpler, safer, and less medically intensive approaches. For some people this may be achieved by dosing changes (changes to the amount of an allergen eaten), and for others by a different route than eating, such as through the skin or under the tongue. Some people may need a modified version of the food or amount of it, and some may need a medication to help.
It is also important to have mechanisms in place to watch for emerging food allergens, and to find out if the changes we are making in food allergy prevention and management are having the effects we want.
Overall, I hope to continue to contribute to taking the fear out of food by having personalized approaches for people with food allergy based on the right diagnosis and right treatment.