Preventing asthma with a glass of milk, a nasal spray or a change in diet. These are the kind of solutions we need. It seems like a dream, but is getting closer and closer to reality. And that is sorely needed. Asthma is the largest chronic childhood disease. There is no cure for asthma and the impact is immense. That’s why the Lung Foundation Netherlands has brought the top scientists in immunology together in the Asthma Prevention Consortium. Together we want to find the answer to the question: How can we prevent asthma?
Educate the immune system
Scientists have discovered that asthma can be prevented when the immune system is educated in the right way in the first years after birth. In children with asthma, the immune system reacts excessive to inhaled, harmless substances. As a result, the lungs of children with asthma are constantly inflamed.
The solution may be found in commensals: crucial, benign microorganisms which live in and around our body. We collect them from nature after birth, but we seem to have lost them in modern life. Scientists discovered that commensals educate our immune system and prevent severe allergic reactions.
Back to nature
Since the start of urbanization, the number and diversity of commensals have decreased, while allergic reactions and asthma among children has increased significantly. Children growing up in traditional, rural farm communities, like the Amish in the US or small family farm communities in Germany and Switzerland, rarely develop asthma. Research has shown that these children come into contact with commensals much more often.
The Consortium aims to bring back nature to our urbanized lifestyle by re-introducing commensals to young children and thus prevent them from developing asthma. Top scientists
Overall the consortium concentrates on five promising projects: four routes to find solutions for asthma and a diagnostic test to predict asthma.
Farm milk-based product to prevent asthma
Children growing up on small family farms have less risk of developing asthma and allergies. Drinking raw cow’s milk at early age is one of the factors contributing to this protection. This inspired researchers to develop a safe minimally processed milk product that may prevent asthma. A unique clinical trial will prove this.
Consortium Partner: Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
Research: Clinical trial to investigate the preventive effects of raw farm milk with minimal processing in 2700 babies and toddlers
Funding requirement: €1.5 million
Farm dust to fight viruses
Children growing up on family-run farms suffer significantly less from asthma and allergies compared to children who grow up in urban areas. An equally remarkable fact is that they suffer less from (severe) viral respiratory tract infections during their first year of life. Not only because they often drink farm milk, but also because they inhale the farm dust. Frequent and severe viral respiratory tract infections during the first year of life increase the risk of developing asthma at a later stage. The researchers will investigate the mechanism involved in the farm dust-induced protection against viral respiratory tract infections and thereby against asthma.
Consortium Partners: Ghent University, Leiden University Medical Center, Essen University Hospital
Research: Identification of the mechanism behind the protective effects of barnyard dust
Funding requirement: €1.3 million
Children’s diet against asthma
We know that good nutrition is essential for our health. However, the relationship between specific nutrients and healthy lungs is still largely unknown. Scientists will investigate the production of certain gut-specific molecules by the intestinal flora to gain a better understanding of this relationship. The researchers will investigate whether eating modified diets or consuming farm milk plays a key role in protecting against childhood asthma.
Consortium Partner: Monash University
Research: The effect of modified diet on intestinal flora and the lungs
Funding requirement: €1 million
Therapeutic worm molecules
Worm parasites used to be a normal element in our intestinal flora. In tropical countries, various worm parasites are still common. Strikingly enough, fewer children suffer from asthma in those countries. Worm parasites may be of influence, because they have an inhibitory effect on the human immune system to ensure its own survival. The researchers intent to unravel the mechanisms to create a healthy balance in the immune system and prevent it from overacting to harmless foreign substances.
Consortium Partners: University of Glasgow, University of Edinburgh, Leiden University Medical Center
Research: Synthesise and test worm molecules which pacify our immune system and our lungs
Funding requirement: €1.4 million
To predict is to prevent
Some children are more sensitive to asthma then others. These children may benefit from treatment with minimally processed cow’s milk, farm dust, worm parasite derivatives and/or a modified diet. Preferably, these children should be identified at an early (st)age before disease has been established. This can protect thousands of children. Therefore, the researchers intend to develop a unique diagnostic test, allowing them to pinpoint those children at risk.
Consortium Partners: Leiden University Medical Centre, Monash University, LMU Munich
Research: Development of a diagnostic test to predict which children require (extra) treatment
Funding requirement: €800,000