Major study probes childhood asthma, allergies

June 26, 2008

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By Carol Thorbes

An exponential increase in childhood asthma and allergies has sparked a $12 million cross-Canada investigation of the two respiratory illnesses.

In the last 30 years, the number of children aged five to 18 years suffering from asthma and allergies has doubled in the general population. Among low-income families the number has quadrupled.

Tim Takaro and Ryan Allen in SFU’s Faculty of Health Sciences are among about 40 national researchers involved in the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) Study, funded primarily by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and AllerGen NCE Inc.

Takaro is a physician-scientist in occupational health and Allen is an assistant professor in exposure science. They and their colleagues in the CHILD study are investigating how genetic predisposition, immune system development, personal characteristics and environmental factors combine to increase the occurrence of asthma and allergies.

"We’re finding out that many factors converge to determine which genes get turned on and off in the human body," explains Takaro. "Through environmental assessments, genetic testing, monitoring physiological development from birth and other studies, we hope to identify interactions that trigger the activation of genes and consequently the development and inheritance of asthma and allergies."

Over a five-year period, CHILD researchers will study growth and the development of the immune and respiratory systems of babies born to 5,000 women recruited from the general population in Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Toronto.

The study will help health professionals develop strategies for mitigating the increasing occurrence of childhood asthma and allergies. It will also track how parental health contributes to children’s development of these illnesses.

The researchers will create a database of biological and environmental samples and records that can also be applied to unraveling how multiple factors coincide to cause other chronic illnesses such as cancer and diabetes.
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