Food Allergy, Infant Immunity & Breast Milk Research
Food allergies impact 6-8% of children in the U.S. Among them, peanut allergy is the most common cause of fatal and near-fatal food allergic reactions and is rarely outgrown. Its prevalence has steadily increased in children to over 1% during the past decade. There is a more modest increase in other food allergies, including cow's milk, egg, wheat, tree nut, fish and shellfish allergy. Since it is known that maternal, rather than paternal atopic status has a greater effect on the atopic outcome of the progeny, perinatal environmental factors, including maternal diet, immune status and breastfeeding may play a critical role.
The current focus of the Järvinen-Seppo Laboratory is to characterize the immunologic factors present in human milk that may modify the infant's developing immune system and oral tolerance to foods. We are particularly interested in understanding the role of immunologically active components in breast milk, including food antigens, antibodies, immunocompetent cells, cell mediators, and microbiome in the prevention of food and other allergies in childhood. We previously found high levels of immunoglobulin A (IgA) in human milk as a potential factor protecting infants against development of cow's milk allergy. We also identified a panel of proinflammatory and regulatory cytokines in breast milk that were associated with protection against food allergies.
Current Research Focus
- To comprehensively characterize the variety of immune factors present in breast milk
- To study the regulation and interplay of immune factors (IgA, cells, cytokines, microbiome) in mother's milk
- To determine the impact of immune factors in milk on the developing gut immune system (gut epithelium and immune cells)
Main Methods Used in Our Laboratory
- Cell-based in vitro activity assays (reporter cell lines, co-culture assays)
- Transcytosis assays (CaCO2 epithelial cell lines)
- Immunologic assays (ELISA, Luminex, Western Blot)
- Flow cytometry, Immunofluorescence microscopy
- Expression analysis (RT-qPCR)
- Microbiome analysis (16S sequencing)
Why It's Important
This work aims at designing better strategies for the primary and secondary prevention of allergies in childhood.