According to the data shared by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention around 10.6% of grade-school children suffer from asthma. Currently there is no cure for this chronic disease; however, a recent research might just change that.
It is being claimed by scientists that they might have found a clue to stopping the dire breathing problem among children. They propose that the microbes carried into the house by the farm animals through dust may hold a solution to asthma. The research was published in The New England Journal of Medicine. The results are considered to have so much potential that the development of a spray can be a possibility. The said spray can be used to treat children who don’t have contact with farm animals, such as cows and horses, on a regular basis.
The research took place due to the idea that children living in a clean environment lead them to suffer from asthma. The hypothesis of the study suggests that if children come into contact with microbes that stimulate their immune system during the initial years then they can be protected from this disease.
The study does provide proof that an environmental factor could protect children from asthma. However, the scientists still need to work on expanding their current research as it was quite small. But that didn’t stop Dr. Brian Christman, Vanderbilt University’s pulmonologist and a volunteer spokesperson for the American Lung Association, from sharing his excitement. “They really nailed it,” he said.
The new work started when a group of investigators noticed a strange distinction among the people belonging to two different farming groups: Hutterites of North Dakota and Amish of Indiana. Asthma was common among the Hutterites, affecting 15%-20%, whereas it was rare among the Amish, only affecting 2%-4% of them.
People from both groups shared similar lifestyles. The only difference between them was their methods of farming. The Amish spend their lives on single family dairy farms. They have no electricity, use animals for transportation, and their children play in their barns. Whereas the Hutterites have industrial farms, use electricity, and their children don’t necessarily play in barns.
During the study the researchers observed and compared the type of immune cells present in the blood of Amish and Hutterite children (30 each). Carole Ober, the chairwoman of the human genetics department at University of Chicago and the author of the study said, “We saw whopping differences with very, very different cell types and cell numbers.”
No Amish child had asthma. Instead they had a large number of white blood cells, called neutrophils, which made for a stronger innate immune system. This was the proof of a low-grade reaction to foreign microbial invaders. In contrast, 6 out of the 30 Hutterite children suffered from asthma. They had very few neutrophils. However, their blood did have high quantities of eosinophils which provoke allergic reactions. It was as if they were ready to get an asthma attack as soon as they inhaled something.
Instead of continuing their study on immune cells with a larger sample size the researchers took dust samples from homes of both groups. After further experiments, which included testing the dust on mice, Dr. Donata Vercelli, asthma and research centre’s associate director at the University of Arizona, said, “We found exactly what we found in the children. If we give the Amish dust, we protect the mice. If we give the Hutterite dust, we do not protect them.”
Dr. Vercelli also retook the test. She exposed the mice to the Amish dust having no genes for innate immune response. The results showed that the dust did not prove to be protective this time around.
Dr. William Bussi, a professor of allergy at the University of Wisconsin, said, “This is an extremely positive march forward.”
Dr. Talal Chatila, the write of the editorial accompanying the new paper and an immunologist at Harvard Medical School, said that he was not asking people to pack Amish dust and start selling it as a cure. But he did go on to state that he “wouldn’t be surprised if inactive forms of the bacteria could be used.”
The results of the current study are exciting. Time will tell how the results are used to help treat children suffering from asthma.