STUDYING MICROBES in the gut of newborns offers insight into their risk of allergies and asthma later in childhood, according to the findings of recent research. The study’s co-senior author Dr Christine Cole Johnson, Chair of Public Health Sciences, Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit, Michigan, USA, elucidated: “We have been working for over a decade, trying to figure out why some children get asthma and allergies, and some do not. It seems that the microbial communities within the body could be the keystone to understanding this and a number of different immune diseases.”
This work leveraged data previously collected, making use of cutting-edge technology. Back in 2003 Dr Christine Cole Johnson’s lab began tracking life risk factors for asthma in children. The children were monitored until they were aged 1 year, tested for allergies at 2 years, and for asthma at 4 years. Stool samples were also collected; utilising modern advances in genetic technology, the study analysed samples from 130 1-month-old children in order to uncover gut microbiome features that were potentially linked to the development of asthma later in life.
Based on matching the results of the analyses with the 2 and 4-year follow-up data, it was found that 11 children had 3-times the risk of developing allergies and asthma compared with the others. A comparison of the gut microbiomes of this increased-risk group with those of the other children revealed distinct differences. The increased-risk children lacked a set of fat molecules that are believed to nourish T regulatory immune cells, which control the immune system. Instead, they had different fats, amongst which was a fat that has been linked to asthma in adults. The authors consequently hypothesised that the absence of these fat molecules resulted in a hyperactive immune system eventually causing chronic asthmatic inflammation of the lungs.
It is hoped that if warning signs of allergic asthma can be identified in the gut at an early stage in life, an intervention could be staged to change the microbes, preventing the disease from developing in the future.