New research by scientists at UBC and BC Children’s
Hospital finds that infants can be protected from
getting asthma if they acquire four types of gut
bacteria by three months of age. More than 300
families from across Canada participated in this
research through the Canadian Healthy Infant
Longitudinal Development (CHILD) Study.
“This research supports the hygiene hypothesis that
we’re making our environment too clean. It shows
that gut bacteria play a role in asthma, but it is
early in life when the baby’s immune system is being
established,” said the study’s co-lead researcher B.
Brett Finlay, Peter Wall Distinguished Professor in
the Michael Smith Laboratories and the departments
of microbiology & immunology and biochemistry and
molecular biology at UBC.
Asthma rates have increased dramatically since the
1950s and now affect up to 20 per cent of children
in western countries. The discovery opens the door
to developing probiotic treatments for infants that
prevent asthma. The finding could also be used to
develop a test for predicting which children are at
risk of developing asthma.
The researchers analyzed fecal samples from 319
children involved in the CHILD Study. Analysis of
the gut bacteria from the samples revealed lower
levels of four specific gut bacteria in
three-month-old infants who were at an increased
risk for asthma.
Most babies naturally acquire these four bacteria,
nicknamed FLVR (Faecalibacterium, Lachnospira,
Veillonella, Rothia), from their environments, but
some do not, either because of the circumstances of
their birth or other factors.
The researchers also found fewer differences in FLVR
levels among one-year-old children, meaning the
first three months are a critical time period for a
baby’s developing immune system.
The researchers confirmed these findings in mice and
also discovered that newborn mice inoculated with
the FLVR bacteria developed less severe asthma.
“This discovery gives us new potential ways to
prevent this disease that is life-threatening for
many children. It shows there’s a short, maybe
100-day window for giving babies therapeutic
interventions to protect against asthma,” said
co-lead researcher Dr. Stuart Turvey, pediatric
immunologist, BC Children’s Hospital, director of
clinical research and senior clinician scientist at
the Child & Family Research Institute, Aubrey J.
Tingle Professor of Pediatric Immunology at UBC.
The researchers say that further study with a larger
number of children is required to confirm these
findings and reveal how these bacteria influence the
development of asthma.
For more information
The study published in Science Translational
Early infancy microbial and metabolic alterations
affect risk of childhood asthma.
University of British Columbia