Seafood lovers who have had a bad reaction to fish or shellfish may soon be able to still enjoy their favourite fare thanks to innovative research by a James Cook University researcher.
Senior Lecturer Andreas Lopata recently joined JCU in the Discipline of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, from RMIT University in Melbourne.
Dr Lopata’s expertise includes food allergies that occur after consuming food or while cooking or handling food. However, seafood is the focus of his work.
“Once people develop seafood allergies, they will not grow out of it,” he said.
“It’s not like milk or egg, where children can develop allergies which can disappear. With fish or shellfish, you have the allergy for life.
“However, we are working on narrowing down which species may be more prone to spark a reaction in those more susceptible.”
He said that seafood allergies affect millions around the world, with up to 50 per cent of Asian children reacting badly, yet there were only a handful of researchers working in the area.
“Research shows seafood allergic reactions are as common as peanut allergy, if not more so, yet peanut research is dominant.”
The rate of allergic reactions depended on eating habits, he said.
“In Australia, the incidence in children is very low compared with Asia – Thailand, Singapore, China and Japan. That’s because these communities eat much more seafood from very early in childhood.
“However, we will see much more allergens among Australians in future, as the migrant population from these countries increases.”
Dr Lopata said there was no straightforward answer yet as to why people were, or became, allergic to food or in particular seafood.
“We do know there are two components, or causes. Firstly, people can have a genetic pre-disposition to an allergy. If one parent is allergic, there is a 30 per cent chance their kids will be allergic too. If both parents are allergic, it rises to a 70 per cent chance their child will have an allergy.
“Secondly, environmental factors also trigger a pre-disposition, such as household mite exposure.
“There is strong evidence to suggest that those who are allergic to household mites also display a hypersensitivity to shellfish.”
“98 per cent of people do not and never will react to seafood protein, but those who do will be part of our research, to help develop vaccines in future.”
Dr Lopata’s research team will be taking advantage of the plethora of seafood species in northern Queensland. The work will include travelling on the Reef, collecting different species of fish and shellfish, and bringing them back to the lab and cooking them.
“That’s what other studies lack: species variety. However, we have here in the Tropics thousands of shellfish species. The challenge is to find the right diagnostics to pick up all these allergies.”
Dr Lopata said they would also be working with the Townsville Hospital on developing early identification of allergic reactions in patients. The immunological mechanism for future vaccines and therapy will be developed in the Comparative Genomic Centre as part of the Queensland Tropical Health Alliance.
“It all starts with a good diagnosis,” he said.
“The worst thing would be for people who have had a reaction is to stay away from seafood altogether because they’re afraid of another bad reaction.
“It is a very healthy food and they might not be allergic at all or only be allergic to one particular type of fish or shellfish and can continue enjoying the rest.”
(Source: James Cook University)
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