ALLERGY SOCIETY OF SOUTH AFRICA (ALLSA) SUPPORTED RESEARCH IN ALLERGY AND ASTHMA
ALLSA was founded in 1988. The first ALLSA research grant was awarded in 1991 to Dr Ahmed Manjra for a study titled ‘Cockroach allergy in Durban’. He had joined the Allergy Clinic at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital as a senior registrar in 1990. The results of his research were published in Current Allergy and Clinical Immunology in 1995 (Manjra AI, Prescott R, Potter PC. Cockroach Allergy in Durban. Curr Allergy Clin Immunol 1995;8: 3-7). This article received international recognition and Dr Manjra followed up this research with another publication in 2005 (Lopata Al, Jeebhay MF, Groenewald M, Manjra AI, Du Toit G, Sibanda EN, Calvert J, Lee S, Schenkel M, Fenemore B, Motala C, Potter PC. Sensitization to three cockroach species in Southern Africa. Curr Allergy Clin Immunol 2005;18:62-6).
Over the years ALLSA has supported 94 researchers working in the fields of allergy and asthma – including laboratory and clinical research. Many of the research projects have led to local and international publications and masters and doctoral degrees, and many of the recipients of ALLSA research awards are now key opinion leaders in the field. A selection of the allergy research projects includes characterization and identification of South African grasses (Paul Potter, Ruth Prescott), sulphite preservatives (Harris Steinman), seafood allergy (Andreas Lopata), and house dust mites in various geographical areas (Gloria Davis, Robin Green, David Luyt).
Rhinovirus and its relationship to asthma exacerbations received funding in 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000. The researchers were Phillip Bardin, James Syce, Richard Glashoff, and Sharon Kling. Publications in international journals followed. Other asthma research that received support included epidemiology (Emmerentia van Schalkwyk) and near-fatal asthma in children (Heather Zar). Public health asthma and occupational allergy research gained importance in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Chronic urticaria became a focus for research at Red Cross Hospital under George du Toit and Ruth Prescott in 2001 and 2002. Also in 2002, Mike Levin received a research award for ‘Definitions of respiratory medical terms, and the types of differences in understanding of these terms, by Xhosa speaking parents and English speaking doctors at Red Cross Children’s Hospital.’ His research culminated in a PhD in Linguistics! More recently Claudia Gray’s research into the prevalence of IgE-mediated food allergy in South African children with atopic dermatitis was supported; work that also culminated in the first PhD to be awarded in the field of clinical allergology in South Africa. Tshegofatso Mabelane contributed to the alpha-gal literature by researching its prevalence in the rural Eastern Cape for her M Phil research assignment.
ALLSA has not only supported doctors and scientists. Kaarina Meintjes achieved her PhD in Nursing at the University of Johannesburg on primary health care management guidelines for childhood atopic eczema; Idonette van Zyl (dietician) researched fatty acid and micronutrient intake and status in association with allergy among pregnant urban women; and Tharien de Kock (also a dietician) studied the ‘Knowledge and practice of parents regarding precautionary allergen labelling in the management of children with food allergies in South Africa’ for her Master’s degree.
The history of academic allergy in South Africa is also reflected in the awards: in the early days, most of the awards went to researchers aligned to the University of Cape Town. Subsequently, other institutions also developed research areas in asthma and allergy (Stellenbosch University, University of the Western Cape, NIOH, University of the Witwatersrand, University of KwaZulu-Natal, University of Pretoria and North-West University).
How did ALLSA fund the research and how much money has been disbursed over the years?
Up until the present, all the research was funded by the pharmaceutical industry. From 1991 until 1998 the only sponsor was UCB, when Glaxo became a major funder. UCB put in excess of R500 000; Glaxo and its subsequent iterations funded over R1 500 000 worth of research. MSD provided research grants between 2006 and 2017 in the amount of R225 000 and Cipla funded R210 000 worth of research grants from 2007 – 2017. Our last pharmaceutically supported research grants were disbursed in 2018 – all funded by GSK and Aspen.
The ALLSA Excom recognizes that it has a vital role to play in promoting allergy-related research and supporting researchers in the field. We also wish to support emerging researchers working with established mentors. To this end, the Financial Committee has ringfenced R100 000 for research awards in 2021.