Researchers in Australia, publishing in Science Translational Medicine, believe they have found a new immune signature in umbilical cord blood drawn at birth that identifies babies at high risk of developing food allergies. The link is hyperactive immune cells at birth, they say, which they’ve associated with high risk of allergy to milk, eggs, peanuts, wheat, and other common foods within the first year of life.
The research was led by Dr. Yuxia Zhang and Professor Len Harrison at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute as well as by Associate Professor Peter Vuillermin from Barwon Health, Deakin University and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute.
Babies at risk of developing food allergies had ‘activated immune cells’ at birth, the research shows.
Immune cells, specifically monocytes, were activated either before or during birth and these encouraged the development of immune responses by T cells in the blood. These are known to be a predisposition to allergic reactions to some foods.
The research was based on food allergy information collected by the Barwon Infant Study, which involved more than 1,000 pregnant women and their babies from the Barwon region of Victoria, Australia. The BIS is lead in part by contributing researcher AP Vuillermin.
The next step in the research, the team says, is to identify why those immune cells are activating early.