13 May 2013
Today marks the start of Allergy Awareness Week.
New Zealands allergy rates are amongst the highest in the world, with one in ten babies born in this country likely to develop an allergy.
Last week results of the CensusAtSchool research, which questioned Kiwi students aged 10 to 18, revealed that approximately 8.5% of the first 2800 respondents had some form of food allergy the most common being dairy.
Generation A, the allergy generation has been born, says Professor Graham Le Gros, Director of the Malaghan Institute.
The evidence lies all around us. Local supermarkets now regularly stock a wide variety of dairy-free or gluten-free foods, something that would have been a rare find a generation ago. Most early childhood centres are peanut-free and dinner invitations routinely request notification of any special dietary requirements.
So what has happened - why now in the 21st century, is allergic disease such a global health issue? The sad truth is that we just dont know, he says.
Compared to our grandparents, our lifestyles are different. Our children spend more time indoors and there is a growing obsession with antibacterial products; but whether these alone account for the explosion of allergic disease in recent years remains unknown.
Prof Le Gros says that before we can start developing therapies that more effectively treat asthma and allergy, we first need to understand the basic biology of the allergic disease process.
In recent years Prof Le Gros team has made significant progress into unravelling the very early stages of the allergic immune response, which he believes holds the key to treating allergic disease.
We believe that prevention of allergy early in life is critical, says Professor Le Gros. Since allergies are driven by the immune system, the most obvious targets for new therapies are the earliest stages of the allergic immune response.
Last month Prof Le Gros' collaborative discovery of a unique type of immune cell in the skin that appears linked to allergic skin diseases was published in Nature Immunology.
Critically we have been able to show that these cells can cause skin allergy in experimental models. This is a huge step forward for us as allergy researchers because now we have a specific target for the development of new therapies that stop the onset of allergic disease.
For more information on allergy, or how you can get involved with Allergy Awareness Week, visit the Allergy New Zealand website www.allergy.org.nz