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Pediatrics / Jarvinen-Seppo Lab

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 couple of decades. There is a more modest increase in other food allergies, including cow's milk, egg, wheat, tree nut, fish and shellfish allergy. The exact mechanisms contributing to the increase in food allergies are unknown. However, the infant microbiome and perinatal environmental factors, including farming vs. urban life-style, infant and maternal diet, immune status and breastfeeding may play a critical role.

Dysbiosis has been shown to precede the development of atopic dermatitis and food allergy, which typically initiate the “atopic march”, i.e. the progression to allergic rhinitis and asthma later in life. The infant gut microbiome is initially dominated by Bifidobacteria, especially in breastfed infants, due to human milk oligosaccharides that do not serve as fuel for the host but for the microbiome. By two years of age, the gut microbiome starts to resemble adult-like microbiome. This time frame coincides with is a rapid development of the immune system and presents a critical window of opportunity for prevention of allergic diseases.

Current Research Focus

The current focus of the Järvinen-Seppo Laboratory is to characterize the differences in the systemic and mucosal immune function and the microbiome in infants born in farming and urban lifestyle environments, as well as to explore the components present in human milk that may modify the infant's developing immune system and oral tolerance to foods. Utilizing samples from infant cohorts, tissue culture models and state-of-the-art immunologic assays and microbiome analyses, our translational research program aims at better understanding of the mechanisms of allergic sensitization and designing novel strategies for the primary and secondary prevention of atopic diseases in childhood.

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, CyTEK, Immunofluorescence microscopy
  • Expression analysis (RT-qPCR, transcriptomic profiling)
  • Microbiome analysis (16S and shotgun metagenomic sequencing)

Why It's Important

This work aims at designing better strategies for the primary and secondary prevention of allergies in childhood.