MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Donata Vercelli, MD
Professor of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, University of Arizona
Director, Arizona Center for the Biology of Complex Diseases
Associate Director, Asthma and Airway Disease Research Center
The BIO5 Institute
Tucson, AZ 85721
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?
Response: By probing the differences between two farming communities—the Amish of Indiana and the Hutterites of South Dakota—our interdisciplinary team (which included, among others, Erika von Mutius from Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, Carole Ober and Anne Sperling from the University of Chicago, and myself) found that substances in the house dust from Amish, but not Hutterite, homes shape the innate immune system in ways that may prevent the development of allergic asthma.
Growing up in a microbe-rich farm environment has been known to protect against asthma. Our current study extends these findings by showing that in both humans and mice protection requires engagement of the innate immune system.
The Amish and Hutterite farming communities in the United States, founded by immigrants from Central Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, provide textbook opportunities for comparative studies. The Amish and the Hutterites have similar genetic ancestry and share lifestyles (e.g., family size, diet, lack of exposure to indoor pets) known to affect asthma risk. However, their farming practices differ. The Amish have retained traditional methods, live on single-family dairy farms and rely on horses for fieldwork and transportation. In contrast, the Hutterites live on large communal farms and use modern, industrialized farm machinery. This distances young Hutterite children from the constant daily exposure to farm animals.
MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?
Response: Our studies in Amish and Hutterite schoolchildren revealed marked differences in the prevalence of asthma despite similar genetic ancestries and lifestyles. As compared with the Hutterites, the Amish, who practice traditional farming and are exposed to an environment rich in microbes, showed exceedingly low rates of asthma: about five percent at age 6 to 14, which is about half of the United States average (10.3%) for children aged 5 to 14, and one fourth of the prevalence (21.3%) among Hutterite children. Amish children also showed distinct immune profiles that suggest profound effects on innate immunity. Moreover, the airways of mice treated with Amish house dust extracts were protected from asthma-like responses to allergens whereas mice exposed to Hutterite house dust were not protected. In these mice, the protective effect of Amish environmental products required the activation of innate immune signaling pathways.
MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?
Response: The novelty of our work lies in the identification of innate immunity as the primary target of the protective Amish environment.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Response: We hope that our findings will allow the identification of relevant substances that will lead to completely novel strategies to prevent asthma and allergy
MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Response: You can’t put a cow in every family’s house, but we may be able to protect children from asthma by finding a way to re-create the time-tested Amish experience.
MedicalResearch.com: Thank you for your contribution to the MedicalResearch.com community.
Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.
More Medical Research Interviews on MedicalResearch.com