At this time of year, hay fever is most prevalent, however, many conditions commonly associated with allergy – asthma, eczema and reactions to food – are problematic year-round. By 2050, around four billion people worldwide are expected to develop an allergic condition, costing the global health service up to €151 bn. 

 

Who is leading the research?

 

Leading the research into paediatric immunology and disease is specialised nutrition company Nutricia, which has decades of experience in research on prevention and management of cow’s milk allergy across a spectrum of severities.

"Science must learn from breastfeeding and nature."

It is a well-established fact that allergies are linked to an excessive immune system response. At the Utrecht Science Park, in the Netherlands, director of the Centre of Excellence Immunology and Professor at the University Utrecht, Johan Garssen, says that, to tackle the growing problem of allergy in children, science must learn from breastfeeding and nature. When an infant is breastfed, a rich combination of bacteria, prebiotics and other ingredients that support the developing immune system pass from mother to infant. When breast feeding is not possible, mums must rely on infant formula to meet baby’s specific needs. This is where Nutricia learns from the best: breast milk.

An infant’s first 1,000 days – from conception to the end of the second year – are critical for immune system development. Professor Nikos Papadopoulos, Professor of Allergy at the University of Manchester and primary adviser to Nutricia on specific allergy trials, explains: “Immune systems are flexible and develop rapidly in the first 1,000 days.”

 

Utilising the power of nutritional science 

 

As a leading manufacturer of science-based specialised nutritional products, Nutricia has developed strong partnerships with research scientists and health care professionals. 

"There has been a recent, dramatic increase in the prevalence of allergies."

These partnerships are key to delivering high quality, evidence-based specialised nutrition to infants and young children. This is key in offering new solutions for infants and young children with specific needs, such as cow’s milk allergies.

As part of his work at Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital, Consultant Paediatric Allergist, Dr Adam Fox, charts the recent, dramatic increase in the prevalence of allergy, which he describes as now “incredibly common”. Underpinning this are several factors associated with modern lifestyle, including overuse of antibiotics in farming and in ill-health and the rise of elective c-sections that deprive the infant of beneficial gut bacteria present in the maternal vaginal tract. 

 

 

Potential beyond allergies

 

Pioneering the development of nutritional ingredients that can support an infant’s immune system is now a key focus of Nutricia’s research, and the roles of pre- and probiotics are proving particularly exciting. Dr Louise Michaelis, Consultant and Associate Lecturer in Paediatric Immunology and Allergy at Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and adviser to Nutricia on clinical trials, explains that research has indicated that infant feeding formulas containing specific pre- and probiotics can rebalance the gut microbiota that are commonly out of balance in infants with cow’s milk allergy. A major research project is now underway to demonstrate the value of synbiotics – a combination of a specific mixture of pre- and probiotic-enriched infant nutrition – in supporting immune fitness, a term used to describe a resilient immune system with an in-built capacity to meet challenges with an appropriate immune response. 

"Cancer, diabetes and obesity also have links to abnormal immune system response."

With conditions such as cancer, diabetes and obesity linked to abnormal immune system response, improving immune fitness through nutrition has wide scale potential. “The research is a major undertaking,” explains Prof Papadopoulos, “but with allergies increasing so rapidly, it is definitely worth doing.” Dr Louise Michaelis adds: “With Nutricia as our collaborative partner, this research aims to be able to deliver some very important advances in our understanding of the immune system and how this can be modulated through nutrition.”

Although there are many factors involved in the development of immune-related conditions, such as allergy, nutrition is one facet that can support the balance of an infant’s microbiota. It is in this area that Nutricia hopes to make a real difference to the lives of families and children with allergy.