Researchers are interested in how and why asthma develops in children. The Childhood Asthma Study and Raine Study have been following groups of children into their teens and beyond, collecting information which includes details of how immune responses triggered in the lungs by early respiratory infections and allergies interact to drive this disease.
They believe a key to guarding against asthma lies in aiding the young immune system to "switch on" protective mechanisms which actively suppress the development of allergic sensitisation.
The Telethon Kids Institute has led development of an asthma vaccine in a world-first international trial, to test the possibility of controlled exposure of babies and toddlers to tiny doses of common allergens, such as house dust mite, grass and cat allergen, as an oral vaccine to stimulate immune responses which protect against allergy. The first stage in this trial successfully proved that this could be done safely, and larger-scale follow-up trials are now in progress in the UK.
Since the diagnosis of exercise-induced asthma is difficult because the tests used are harder for young children to perform, specialised lung function tests have been developed which can be used in children as young as three years.
Research into the effects of ultraviolet radiation and vitamin D3 on the immune system has shown that small UV doses, equivalent to a short period in the midday sun, can be protective against developing asthmatic symptoms. Latest findings also indicate that vitamin D3 deficiency during infancy increases risk for later development of asthma, apparently by increasing susceptibility to respiratory allergies.
As part of the Raine Study, children born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy were found to have reduced lung function and were more likely to have asthma and wheeze.