Swansea University study into common triad of diseases published

Academics from Swansea University’s College of Medicine, have taken part in a worldwide study into the common diseases of asthma, eczema and hay fever, which is being published in the renowned Nature journal today (Wednesday 18th February 2015).

The saying ‘good things come in threes’ may well be true for many things – but this common atopic triad is probably a trio many of us could do without. Atopy refers to a family tendency to develop certain allergic conditions including eczema, asthma and hay fever. If one or both parents have eczema, asthma or hay fever, it’s more likely that their children will develop one or more of these conditions.

Atopy means your body produces a certain type of antibody, called immunoglobulin E (IgE), in response to harmless allergens, such as pollen and dust mites. And atopy is what links eczema, asthma and hay fever. Eczema usually appears first, often at a very young age. Babies or children with eczema are then at a high risk of developing asthma and hay fever at a later stage. These diseases are increasing in prevalence and are a major source of disability in the modern world.

With systematic knowledge of IgE production lacking, specialist academics from institutions in Swansea (UK),  Havard (Boston USA), Quebec (Canada), Ontario (Canada), Denver (USA) , Montreal (Canada) and Imperial College (London) conducted the study “An Epigenome-Wide Association Study of Total Serum Immunoglobulin E Concentration”.

Dr Gwyneth Davies and Professor Julian Hopkin from the College of Medicine at Swansea were involved in the study. Dr Gwyneth Davies recruited over 1600 unselected volunteers for the Swansea University Asthma Population/Poblogaeth Asthma Prifysgol Abertawe  PAPAstudy from students and university staff, who were carefully phenotyped by their physical and biochemical characteristics for asthma-related characteristics and genotyped by their genetic makeup.

The PAPA study formed part of a collaboration between Swansea’s College of Medicine (Dr Gwyneth Davies, Prof Julian Hopkin) and Imperial College London (Miriam Moffatt, Bill Cookson) with groups at Harvard, Canada and Denver. To our knowledge, this is likely to be the first time the Welsh language has appeared in Nature!

The Nature study used a biochemical approach to identify patterns of gene activation or inactivation in normal subjects and in those with allergy and asthma - and through that was able to identify novel gene products (proteins) important to the allergy process. The work opens up the possibility of developing new diagnostics or therapeutics  based on these protein "targets". 

Further work is planned between Swansea University's College of Medicine, Imperial College London. and University College Dublin using these methods and others to examine lung tissue in asthma - with the intention of characterising subtypes of asthma including those forms which respond poorly to currently available treatments.

The conclusions of the “An Epigenome-Wide Association Study of Total Serum Immunoglobulin E Concentration” can be found here www.nature.com .