A study published last week in Nature Communications has identified a gene that is being touted as the "missing link" between overactive and under active immune disorders. It is also thought to play a critical part in causing allergies, type I diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune disorders.
Not to be too flippant, but perhaps it can just be thought of as the gene for Immune-System-Gone-Haywire?
Yes and no. Instead of the immune system mistaking some stray peanut as a poison (as happens with peanut allergy), the immune system thinks insulin, being produced internally by pancreatic cells, is poison. Both involve a misguided war launched by the immune system, the end game being anaphylaxis in peanut allergy and destroyed pancreatic cells in diabetes.
So, so interesting that they might both be prevented in the same way: oral introduction of the offending substance at a pre-disease stage. It's is considered a type of immunisation (see previous post), only the dosing may need to be continued regularly to keep the disease from developing. In both cases, doctors are trying to educate the immune system, teaching it safe from sorry.
Wow. A very small pilot study published in JAMA on Tuesday suggests that a treatment based on the same logic we used to cure our kids' allergies could be used to prevent type 1 diabetes in at risk children. Kids were given small doses of insulin, and then slightly larger doses, over 6 months and responses in their immune systems were measured to see if the doses were likely to be protective. Only 25 children in the study but the results look favourable.
I definitely need to know more. I've asked the researchers for the full paper and will report back!
This study, published in Occupational & Environmental Medicine this month and covered widely, found that kids with bleach-cleaned homes and schools were sick significantly more often than kids who spent the majority of time in places that weren't cleaned so harshly.
The researchers did not point to causation but the finding reminds me of the "hygeine hypothesis." This theory claimed that the reason immune systems are going awry in modern times (i.e. the increase in allergies, autoimmune diseases, etc.) is because they are "under-challenged" due to our overly sanitary environments.
Perhaps bleach, by killing nearly every microscopic immune challenger, is causing poorly developed immune systems? Ones that are more susceptible to flu and tonsillitis?
More research is obviously needed, but I for one would be willing to stop bleaching the toilets if it meant even one less flu passed kid to kid next fall.
I am amazed by epigenetics, which is the study of gene changes caused by our lifestyle/experiences. I am especially intrigued by changes that affect the so-called germ line, meaning they are can be inherited by the next generation. Yes, if you are remembering, from high school bio, that guy Lamark who said giraffes got tall necks because they stretched them and passed on their efforts to their kids? The one everyone laughed at? Well, he is getting his props now. Apparently, natural selection isn't the only thing at work on a population's genome.
Two fun epigenetic facts:
The tobacco habit of a grandparent or great grandparent could be the cause for your kid's allergy -- even if they have never met.
Curing your kids allergies could prevent your grandkids from ever being allergic or asthmatic in the first place.