Institute of Asthma and Allergy Prevention

Asthma is an inflammatory disease of the airways of the lung. Asthmatics suffer from intermittent airflow limitation and the symptoms of wheeze and shortness of breath. Asthma is not one disease but a syndrome consisting of many so far not well characterized and delineated phenotypes. Some phenotypes are strongly associated with allergy. Significant numbers of children with disease have persistent symptoms throughout life. Asthma may also present in later life, when it is less obviously associated with allergy, more common in women and cigarette smokers, and often resistant to treatment. Asthma has a high prevalence, a chronic relapsing course, imposes a burden on family, health care and society as a whole, and results in a massive social and economic cost to the community.

Asthma is a complex syndrome determined by many genetic and environmental determinants. Among the genetic factors polymorphisms at the 17q21 locus discovered in the GABRIEL STUDY which I co-coordinated is the most important gene locus in childhood. Among the environmental factors microbial exposures such as those seen in farming environments substantially protect against asthma and respiratory allergies across Europe. Early childhood contact with cow sheds and barns, and the consumption of non-pasteurized farm milk are the essential protective factors in these environments. The effects are remarkably consistent and result in a dramatic >70% reduction in risk. These observations strongly suggest that effective and powerful tools for the prevention of asthma and allergies can be developed.

The focus of work in the Institute of Asthma and Allergy Prevention will be threefold:

  1. to characterize in depth asthma phenotypes through the clinical ALLIANCE cohort of the German Centre for Lung Research (DZL).
  2. to identify relevant asthma and allergy protective microbial factors (HERA and other studies).
  3. to develop novel strategies of asthma and allergy prevention based on the findings from the farm studies.