Research team investigates whether antibiotic use triggers childhood asthma and allergies
Study looks at how intestinal bacteria changes in newborns after babies take antibiotics, and whether changes trigger certain medical conditions
A cross-Canada team of medical researchers suspects that giving antibiotics to infants in their first year of life may be the underlying trigger that causes asthma and allergies to develop later in childhood.
The researchers, from five Canadian universities, are conducting a major, $2.5-million study on how intestinal bacteria changes in newborns after the babies take antibiotics, and whether those changes trigger certain medical conditions in children. The researchers include microbiologists, epidemiologists and immunologists.
Anita Kozyrskyj, who is co-lead investigator in this new federally funded study, demonstrated in a pilot study that infants who receive antibiotics by three months of age have changes in their microbiota.
“The number of different kinds of bacteria is less,” says Kozyrskyj, a researcher in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry at the University of Alberta.
“Now the question is: does antibiotic use early in life change the microbiota in the intestines of children? And are these changes associated with the development of asthma and allergies in children? We are hoping to specifically pinpoint which ‘bad’ bacteria it is that is causing asthma.”
Everyone has “good” intestinal bacteria, known as microbiota, to help absorb nutrients and protect against harmful bacteria. No one is born with this; it develops throughout the first year of life. Normal development of the microbiota can be affected by various factors such as caesarean-section delivery and infant diet and medication use. By one year of age, more than 50 per cent of Canadian infants will receive an antibiotic prescription.
Studies have shown that antibiotics affect the microbiota. As well, composition of microbiota in children who have allergies is different than the microbiotia in children who don’t suffer from allergies, as demonstrated by previous research studies.
Her research will zero in on antibiotic use in the first year of life and will be conducted through a research group called SyMBIOTA, or Synergy in Microbiota Research. The SyMBIOTA team includes researchers Piush Mandhane, Dean Befus, Radha Chari and Catherine Field.
Her colleagues from the University of Toronto, co-principal investigator James Scott and researcher David Guttman, will look at the composition of microbiota from fecal samples from children aged three months and at one year; this will involve about 2,500 babies from across the Prairies and the West Coast. By extracting DNA from these samples, researchers will be able to identify the bacteria that are present in microbiota.
Tatiana Celemin’s four-month-old baby, Sara, is taking part in the research study. Celemin’s son has asthma and that is one of the key reasons the family wanted to get involved with the study—to help researchers find out more about the condition.
“Even if it doesn’t have an impact on Sara, I think it’s important for the medical research to be there to hopefully impact future generations of children.”
This research is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the AllerGen Network Centres of Excellence.
Kozyrskyj, an epidemiologist, is an associate professor of pediatrics at the U of A, and the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute research chair in maternal-child health and the environment.