Sean Parker of Napster fame image
Donating millions: Sean Parker.

Sean Parker of Napster fame is donating $US24 million ($AU29 million) to create a new research institute at Stanford University with the mission of finding a cure – not just another treatment – for allergies.

In announcing the gift, the 35-year-old technology whiz revealed that he has suffered from life-threatening food allergies and asthma for most of his life. He said he missed the final weeks of his senior year at Chantilly (Virginia) High School because of complications from allergies and that his wife estimates he has been hospitalised 14 times in the time they have known each other.

“We think of allergies as being a nuisance or inconvenience, but there are a huge number of people for whom it is pretty debilitating,” Parker, who is estimated by Forbes to be worth $US3 billion ($AU3.7 billion), said during a conference call Monday with reporters.

Parker, co-founder of the Napster file-sharing service and Facebook’s founding president, said that while the number of people with allergies is rising, research has been “stuck in the stone ages.”

About 30 per cent of the global population is affected by allergies each day. Those with allergies to things such as pollen often use antihistamine pills and nasal sprays. Some build tolerance by getting shots that expose them to tiny amounts of allergens.

There are not any approved treatments for people with food allergies, so they must avoid exposure to foods they are allergic to. Many carry around devices with epinephrine, which can stop an attack, in case of accidental exposure.

Parker said he wants to move the field away from managing symptoms and toward delving into the mechanisms of the immune system’s response during allergic reactions.

The new institute, which will be called the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy Research, will be led by Kari Nadeau, a researcher at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford. She has pioneered research that involves exposing patients to small amounts of peanuts, wheat and other allergens in a controlled setting.

Parker has become an influential philanthropist and spokesman for research into the immune system. His largest donations before the one to Stanford have gone to the emerging field of cancer immunotherapy, which looks at how the body’s immune system can be harnessed to stop cancers.

Washington Post
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Henry Sapiecha