|Subhadra Siegel, M.D.|
Subhadra Siegel, M.D., Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Chief of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology, New York Medical College (NYMC)
Pediatric peanut allergies are on the rise in the United States. With research from the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology suggesting that pediatric allergy to peanut has doubled over the past decade, parents are growing increasingly concerned. Dr. Subhadra Siegel, chief of pediatric allergy and immunology at New York Medical College (NYMC), has spent the majority of her career specializing in food allergies, specifically peanut allergies in children. She is board certified by the American Board of Allergy and Immunology and serves as director for the allergy and immunology program at Boston Children’s Health Physicians, in addition to her roles at NYMC.
Here Dr. Siegel shares what she loves most about her profession and reveals why immunologists now believe —when it comes to decreasing a child’s risk of developing a peanut allergy— early introduction may be the key.
What inspired you to focus on pediatric allergies?
I was always interested in immunology as a medical student—the way our immune cells escalate to fight infection but can also escalate to the “wrong” or non-infectious triggers, like a peanut, to induce food allergies. One of my first patients as a resident had DiGeorge syndrome, which is characterized by absence or underdevelopment of the thymus resulting in very low T-cell counts. She had a thymus transplant in her thigh and her T-cells completely reconstituted. Ever since then, I decided that these were the patients I wanted to take care of and decided to specialize in allergy and immunology.
What is your proudest professional accomplishment(s)?
My biggest accomplishments are the day-to-day patient interactions, those times I help my patients by providing a diagnosis and giving them a clear picture of how to manage their allergies. I also find it really rewarding to work with residents and medical students and consider it an accomplishment when someone decides to pursue a career in allergy and immunology. In addition, our division at the Boston Children’s Health Physician has been THE screening center for newborns with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) in the Hudson Valley since New York State began screening for this disease. Screening allows us to diagnose babies with SCID and provide them with care before they get sick. Ultimately, this increases their survival from 60 percent to 95 percent and saves lives.
For years, introducing peanuts to infants was considered taboo. Tell us why leading immunologists now think early exposure is key to prevention.
We have shifted from delaying the introduction of allergic foods, which seems to have contributed to an increase in food allergies, to introducing peanut to infants by 6 months of age. This is a big shift in the management of allergies. Studies show a decrease in peanut allergies from early introduction—soon we will see if this change in guidelines will cause an overall decrease in the prevalence of peanut allergy.