Dr. Geert Houben
- food allergy
- food toxicology
- Risk assessment and risk management
“In collaboration with the various stakeholders,” Principal Scientist Geert Houben explains, “we are working towards approaches for dealing with food allergy. On the one hand, we lead collaborative, solution-based projects in many areas and, on the other hand, we enable industry to make use of the resulting knowledge.”
Currently, society is confronted by three major challenges in the area of food allergy: the need for more clarity about the allergenicity of today’s food, the need for new low-allergen sustainable food protein sources and the development of therapies and prevention for food allergy.
At the moment, consumers cannot be confident about the information on allergens provided by the packaging. Houben: “It’s like Russian roulette. As a safety clause, producers often provide an unneeded warning on the label, or they provide no warning when traces of certain substances are actually contained in the product. This makes it a tricky business for the consumer to have any confidence in the information provided about allergens.” TNO addresses this situation through a number of projects to help estimate the possibility of allergens being present and the actual resulting risks. “We lead the world in the development of international standards and methods for determining and managing the risks of allergens, knowledge that we use to enable industry to make better, more focused risk management decisions.”
In the search for new sustainable food protein sources, allergenicity has to be taken into consideration. Houben: “You’d rather have a new protein source that behaves like a potato than like a peanut – in terms of allergenicity. Currently, we have methods to characterise risks of cross-reactivity of new food proteins, but methods to predict the potential emergence of new allergies due to new foods are lacking.” TNO is working on methods to determine whether entirely new allergies may occur and we have taken a lead in discussing such approaches through the international ImpARAS network initiated by TNO. Companies that make innovative or modified protein products can call on TNO to check on the allergenicity and possible cross-reactivity.
Therapies can help reduce or even prevent allergic reactions but of course we would preferably prevent the development of allergic diseases at all. TNO supports companies that are developing therapeutic or preventive approaches by providing research into the effects of their substances or interventions, and by identifying the risks in a benefit-risk balance sheet.
Houben: “We are keen to invite parties to work with us on the innovations needed to address the challenges posed by food allergy. They are welcome to participate in our Shared Research Programme in this area.”
For more information, check out the website of the SRP Food Allergy.
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