Hampshire experts study development of food allergy in school children

Graham Roberts

Researchers in Southampton are taking part in a pioneering European study into how children born in Hampshire develop food allergies and asthma.

The project, led by Professor Graham Roberts, a consultant in paediatric allergy and respiratory medicine at Southampton Children’s Hospital, follows a previous study, called Prevalence of Infant Food Allergy (PIFA), which found that introducing cow’s milk and solids alongside breast milk could reduce food allergies in babies.

They plan to reassess all 1,140 children who participated in that research at school-age to discover what happens to allergies that started in early childhood and find out which older children develop allergies and asthma.

They hope this will eventually enable specialists to predict allergies and asthma in school-age children based on data from infancy.

In total, more than 14,000 children aged between five and 10 years will be followed-up across Europe and experts will examine a variety of early life influences, from genetics, infant nutrition and environmental factors, to antibiotic use and pet ownership.

“Our research published in 2013 – known as the PIFA study – showed us that introducing solid foods alongside breastfeeding can benefit the immune system by promoting tolerance against allergy development,” explained Prof Roberts, who is also a professor of allergy and respiratory medicine at the University of Southampton.

“However, while that study enabled us to identify why some children develop food allergies and others do not, we now want to take it a step further and look at how older children are affected by food allergy and how this relates to other conditions such as asthma.”

The three-year study is part of a wider €9 million Integrated Approaches to Food Allergen and Allergy Risk Management (iFAAM) research project, which combines clinical research into allergy development in babies and children with industry research into the levels of allergens in food and how to improve food labelling.

Locally, the research is a partnership between Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, the University of Southampton and University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust.

Prof Roberts added: “This is a very exciting international study which will give us a much clearer understanding of the development of allergy in children.

“All children who take part will be evaluated for any symptoms or signs of allergies or asthma which can be difficult to detect and accurately diagnose.”

For more information on the study and how to contact the study team, call 023 8120 6160, email iFAAM@southampton.ac.uk or visit www.southampton.ac.uk/ifaam.

Posted on Tuesday 17 February 2015