Teen develops better way to ascertain food allergies

Ian Martin ’20, Enviroment Editor

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Food allergies plague many people and prevent them from trying certain foods that others would describe as irresistible. Some people are just sensitive to foods that trigger bodily reactions similar to the symptoms one suffers during an allergic reaction.

 

Allergic reactions can often frighten people and stress them out when they eat at restaurants.

 

“I first found out about my seafood allergies when I was about 7 or 8 years old and I was eating shrimp at a Chinese restaurant. Suddenly, my face was bloated and I was in pain. Since then, I always ask, ‘does this have seafood in it?’ because I don’t want to take any chances,” said Jalen Viray ’19.

 

The reactions are so similar, which cause some allergy tests to mistake food sensitivity for being fully allergic. This is why Ayush Alag, a 17-year-old senior at Harker School, began his research into developing technology that can test for food allergies accurately and separate them from sensitivity.

 

Alag had trouble eating as a child, since he believed he was allergic to many different foods,like cashews. They would cause his tongue to prickle up and make his lips swell.

 

Alag stated, “I remembered how my lips had swollen the last time I had eaten a cashew, how Benadryl had alleviated my discomfort.”

 

After extensive testing in his Stanford allergist’s office, he was told that he wasn’t actually allergic, but rather sensitive to many foods.

 

“Although I was fortunately diagnosed as sensitized, I began to question the feasibility of a 4-hour long, terrifying, and life- threatening test.”

 

The tests Alag endured included a blood and skin test, which aren’t always accurate.The most reliable test is is the“oral food challenge.” Alag took it for different foods, mainly tree nuts, and had to fight through the pain when he had a reaction.

 

He wondered why there wasn’t a better option to test for food allergies instead of unreliable tests and the dangerous “oral food challenge.” So, he began to create an algorithm that searches for genetic markers that a person is allergic, not only sensitive.

 

Alag said, “My impulse to instigate change was augmented when I learned that an innocent three-year-old in Alabama had been killed by the food challenge. I sought to help some of the 17 million other food-allergy patients by creating a safer, yet highly accurate, diagnostic test.”

 

Alag is using DNA analyses that are open to the public to create his algorithm but is looking for more DNA samples so his test can be as accurate and reliable as possible. Alag started the company, Allergezy, with a $10,000 grant from Illumina, a company focused on genomic testing.

 

Alag hopes that his DNA test will be a huge help to other patients and that his finding scan aid future scientists in their research for the allergy field.