Babies born with allergies

The following is an article featured in the Herald Sun and written by Lucie Van Den Berg, Wednesday July 9th, 2014.

The study of one-year-old babies tried to pinpoint why and when food allergies occur by Autumn babyanalysing their environmental and genetic changes.

Dr David Martino, from the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, said their study of 12 infants found preliminary evidence of pre-birth programming of food allergies.

He believes epigenetics, the process that turn genes on and off in response to the environment, was vital to uncovering the clues about the origin of allergies.

One in 10 Victorian babies are diagnosed with a food allergy.

“Lifestyles and environmental exposures can change the epigenetic switches on your DNA; for instance, it can cause the gene for food allergies to express themselves too strongly,” he said.

His study measured DNA methylation – an epigenetic mechanism that controls whether genes are turned up or down or switched on or off – in blood samples from babies with food allergies.

“We found several switches that were different in the children with food allergies that occurred in some important immune genes.”

They found preliminary evidence that specific immune genes were disrupted in the children. They then looked at cord blood samples from the same children, collected at birth, and found the same disruptions existed in the blood, suggesting that the changes occurred very early in the baby’s development.

“We found a large proportion of them were already present at birth, which suggests that deregulated event where those gene switches were disrupted probably happened very early in life, possibly as early as gestation.”

The same study will now be conducted using 5000 Victorian children.

“Our data suggests it’s possible that these changes occurred before they were born, but it’s a small study and we think its important to look at the interaction between genetics, epigenetics and the environment in a larger pop­-ulation,” Dr Martino said.

Research was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia.