University of Southampton Researchers Investigate Rise in Allergies

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In 2016 Natasha Ednan-Laperouse suffered a severe and eventually fatal allergic reaction to a baguette from Pret a Manger that unknowingly contained sesame seeds.

Sesame seeds were omitted from the product’s label and meant that even though an epipen was administered she died in hospital a few hours later. Alarmingly this is only one example out of the thousands; and this figure has been steadily rising over the past few years.

Allergies are when the immune system combats a substance from the environment which would normally be harmless; this results in an immune response that causes various symptoms such as coughing, sneezing and abdominal pain but in extreme cases it can lead to anaphylaxis. The NHS documents that in 2018/19 1746 children were treated for anaphylaxis in comparison to 1015 in 2013/14; AllergyUK  similarly state that from 1992-2012 there was a 615% increase in hospital admissions for anaphylaxis. This rapid rise of admissions to hospital is a combination of products leaving out allergens it contains on the label (currently law states that only the 14 most dangerous allergens must be displayed if the product contains it) and the rate of allergies becoming more frequent over time.

AllergyUK states that 44% of the UK population now suffer with at least one allergen making it one of the most prevalent chronic diseases and can create severe fear and anxiety for the sufferer due to the risk of triggering allergic reactions. It is currently mere speculation as to why allergies may be becoming more frequent however some scientists argue environmental factors have an impact. Overall there is a lower rate of allergies in developing countries and in rural areas which means industrialisation is suspected to affect the rate of allergies. This is proven further by migrants having more allergies (especially asthma) in their new country in comparison to their original country. Scientists are working to theorise on this rise in allergies; one being that improved hygiene is having a negative effect. With children having routine injections, the immune system now has less work to do and consequently works against things it normally wouldn’t; this is especially true for parasite infections as they activate the same branch of the immune system that allergies activate. Another theory states that the rise in allergies is linked to the rise in vitamin D deficiency over the world as vitamin D has a crucial role in immune system functioning and therefore preventing allergy development.

University of Southampton’s Professor Syed Arshad has conducted research on allergies since early 2000s and works to investigate prevention, risk factors involved in allergies and improved diagnosis of allergies. His most research focuses on using a risk score to predict asthma development in young children; this aims to give the potential of an early intervention or a prevention strategy before the asthma can fully develop. Using data from the birth cohort of an ongoing study, they identified factors to predict asthma development; this was then used to construct the Pediatric Asthma Risk Score (PARS). Professor Arshad found that PARS successfully predicted asthma development in children of moderate risk as well as those at higher risk; this is significant because these children are more common than high risk children so Professor Arshad’s work here can have a wider impact.

Professor Arshad is confident that in the next twenty years we will be able to prevent asthma and allergy development in children but for now we are aiming to make smaller changes that allow coping with allergies a lot easier.  Natasha’s parents campaigned and fought to get ‘Natasha’s Law’ into place and achieved this in July 2019; this law states that food businesses must include full product labeling on pre-packaged foods. On the same day her parents also announced the launch of the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation (NARF); this charity’s aim is to support research that is working towards curing allergies. To do this they’re working with the University of Southampton and its researchers to set up a global allergen research center to pioneer allergy research. Research like this is an area in need of funding and development in order to reach this charity’s aim of ending allergies for good.

Read more about Natasha’s story here and about the University of Southampton’s work with the NARF here.

 

 

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Third year Biology student

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