“Another outcome of this study is the ability to predict who will develop asthma so that efforts can be directed towards children most at risk,” says Professor Arshad. “Children often wheeze in early childhood and the majority of these children improve and do not develop asthma. But about a third develop asthma by the age of six. By that time it is too late to prevent it. It has not been possible to predict accurately who will develop asthma among these wheezy children. We believe that the epigenetic markers in immune cells will differentiate between children who do or do not develop asthma at an early age.”
The second part of the study is a continuation of the MAPS study, which treated children at high risk of asthma with an allergy vaccine, directed against a common allergen called house dust mite. The study showed that they had less allergy at 18 months. This new phase of the study will assess whether the vaccine had a lasting effect by analysing whether the epigenetic markers were erased by the vaccine.
Dr Vijayanand of La Jolla Institute added: “We are excited to collaborate with Southampton enabling a comprehensive investigation to identify the mechanisms that underlie the development of asthma, which would provide important information for future treatments. We also hope to be able to predict early in childhood who will develop asthma later in childhood.”