My research is focussed around the relationship between biophysical properties of proteins and polysaccharides, and their structural attributes within the context of behaviour during digestion in the gastrointestinal tract, and in particular with regards what makes some foods, like peanut, more allergenic than others, and why some food proteins become allergens. Different types of foods may elicit a variety of physiological and psychological responses which will have a direct impact on our health and well being. We are discovering what the rules are that govern the changes in natural and fabricated food structures (including nano-scale structures) during digestion and how that affects the form and uptake of food proteins, including allergens, by the gut epithelium. A bioinformatic analysis of food allergens of plant and animal origin has shown a restricted membership of protein superfamilies, supporting molecular and structural approaches to allergen classification. We are now seeking to discover why certain protein scaffolds dominate known allergens from foods, how the structural and biological properties conferred by these scaffolds may predisposes a protein to becoming a food allergen, and how this may be altered by food processing and the food matrix. In particular we have been investigating how thermal denaturation, such as roasting and boiling, and the food matrix (adsorption at interfaces, entrappment within baked matrices such as cookies and muffins) results in formation of partially-folded states and aggregated protein networks which may affect allergenic activity. The impact of such changes, together with biomolecular interactions with other components, such as lipids, on the kinetics of simulated gastrointestinal proteolysis is being investigated using proteomic approaches. This is complimented by studies on the effect on allergenicity, in terms of, for example human allergic IgE-binding capacity, undertaken using biological samples from the ManARTS research tissue bank in Manchester, and in collaboration with researchers around the world through the EuroPrevall and iFAAM projects. Our molecular level understanding of allergens in foods is underpinning the development of new profiling tools using mass spectrometry and the development of targetted mass spectrometry methods for determinations of allergens in foods, including peanut and gluten. The interest in the allergen analysis has led to the formation of the Manchester Food Allergy Network (MFAN), a club of around 30 companies from around the world with interests in food allergen analysis and management. It includes retailers, manufacturers and analytical service providers and meets quarterly in the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology.
Since moving to The University of Manchester in the autumn of 2011 a major translational research activity has been to take the oral food challenge matrix developed for the EuroPrevall project forward as a diagnostic tool. This has been used in two multinational immunotherapy trials and the NIHR Respiratory and Allergy Clinical Research Facility at the University Hospital of South Manchester. This has lead to the formation of a start-up company, Reacta Biotech Ltd for which I am currently a founder director and Chief Scientific Officer (http://www.reactabiotech.co.uk/our-business).