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An international team of scientists is working on a “farm dust” treatment to stop children developing allergies as research reveals the protective benefits of being brought up on a farm can last into adulthood.
The study has found evidence that children brought up on family farms have greater protection into early adulthood from allergic rhinitis, a reaction that can cause a runny nose, sneezing and red eyes.
Scientists now believe substances in barnyard dust and the benefits of drinking unprocessed milk may be involved in protecting against allergies. One theory is the variety of microorganisms they contain help boost the body’s defences.
An international consortium of researchers is now working on potential treatments from farm dust and unprocessed milk that may combat the reported increasing prevalence of food allergies, with a target to deliver a product within the next five years.
Erika von Mutius, a paediatrician at the Helmholtz research centre in Munich and the Dr von Hauner children’s hospital at Munich University, said the international work involved examining the protective extracts from farm dust and studying the beneficial effects on children of minimally processed milk.
She said: “We are on that journey to develop a treatment that in the best of all worlds would prevent asthma and allergies. There’s a lot of promising work and we’re slowly getting there.”
The latest developments in the international battle against potentially deadly allergic reactions will be examined at a global symposium of allergy experts to be held this week at Dumfries House in Scotland, which is part of the Prince’s Foundation.
The event has been organised by the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation, set up by the parents of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died in July 2016 after suffering an allergic reaction from a baguette containing sesame seeds. Prince Charles will host and attend the two-day event.
The latest research published in June in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology involved a study of more than 1,300 children in Germany which found the protective effects from allergic reactions associated with living on a farm continued into early adulthood, even if the children had moved elsewhere after the age of six.
The report, which was co-authored by Von Mutius, states: “Our findings are in line with the hypothesis that the window of opportunity for allergy prevention by exposure to environments rich in microbial diversity lies somewhere in childhood.”
Von Mutius said the focus for many years had been on protecting children from potential allergens in the environment. “It is no longer only about avoidance,” she said. “There is now a consensus we need to introduce the things we have lost in our lifestyles.”
Research has shown that mice exposed to farm-dust extract from Germany and Switzerland were fully protected against house-dust mite allergy. There have also been several studies linking the consumption of unprocessed or raw milk with protection against allergies. Raw milk can contain harmful bacteria, so the research project is focused on minimally processed farm milk.
The Dutch Lung Foundation, a non-profit organisation and one of the biggest funders of lung research in Europe, is funding an international asthma consortium to investigate potential treatments to prevent asthma and allergies.
It has set a target for 2027 of a product based on “minimally processed” farm milk to protect children against allergies and asthma and an additional preventive treatment which may be based on “farm dust”.
Sir Stephen Holgate, professor of immunopharmacology at Southampton University, who is leading this week’s symposium, said scientists at the event would present the emerging evidence on the reported increases in allergies, the possible reasons and potential interventions.
He said one of the factors that may be involved in increasing allergies was the narrower range of micro-organisms to which young children were being exposed.
He said: “By not having a protective umbrella boosted in the first few months of life, we are depriving our immune system of the intelligence to be able to suppress the allergic pathways.” He said the symposium would discuss the research into treatments to protect children against allergies.
Nadim Ednan-Laperouse, Natasha’s father, said: “The idea of bringing some of the world’s leading allergy and environment experts together in the same room first developed almost four years ago soon after the inquest into our daughter’s death.
“We firmly believe that through scientific research we can shine a bright light on allergy and work towards consigning it to history. This week’s symposium can be a significant milestone by helping map out policy interventions and research objectives.”