MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Anita Kozyrskyj, PhD
Department of Pediatrics
Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry
University of Alberta
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Response: We have known for a while that early-life exposure to household pets can reduce risk for allergic disease; new studies also suggest a benefit in preventing overweight. Our pilot study in 2013 showed that postnatal pet exposure increases the number of different beneficial microbes in the infant gut. My team of 12, including first author and Albert Innovates-Health Solutions (AIHS) postdoctoral fellow Hein Min Tun, took the science one step closer to understanding this connection in our recently published work in the Microbiome journal. In a study of 746 infants from the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development Study (CHILD) birth cohort, we investigated the impact of pet exposure during pregnancy or afterwards on infant gut microbes, and whether this depended on how infants were born.
In infants born vaginally or by cesarean section, pet exposure during pregnancy or pre and postnatally up to 3 months after birth increased the amounts of 2 bacteria found on dogs and cats. One is Ruminococcus, linked to lower rates of allergies in children. The other is a relatively unknown microbe, Oscillospira, reported to promote leanness. Another important finding suggested that contact with pets during pregnancy could reduce transmission of vaginal GBS (group B Streptococcus) during birth.
MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?
Response: It’s far too early to predict how this finding will play out, but we wouldn’t rule out the concept of a “dog in a pill” as a preventive measure for allergies and obesity. Pets have always been our best friends and they are good for our babies too.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Response: Although our microbiota findings point to a link with pet exposure, further studies are necessary to understand the role of the 2 gut microbes (Ruminococcus and Oscillospira) in infants. So, this is not the end of the story. Our next step to pursue the “does it matter” question to determine the allergy and obesity outcomes of studied infants at ages 1, 3 and 5.
MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Response: The CHILD cohort is the largest general population birth cohort in North America to assess pet exposure status during pregnancy, as well as postnatally, in relation to its impact on gut microbes in infants. The research was funded by CIHR and AllerGen NCE.
MedicalResearch.com: Thank you for your contribution to the MedicalResearch.com community.
Hein M. Tun, Theodore Konya, Tim K. Takaro, Jeffrey R. Brook, Radha Chari, Catherine J. Field, David S. Guttman, Allan B. Becker, Piush J. Mandhane, Stuart E. Turvey, Padmaja Subbarao, Malcolm R. Sears, James A. Scott, Anita L. Kozyrskyj. Exposure to household furry pets influences the gut microbiota of infant at 3–4 months following various birth scenarios. Microbiome, 2017; 5 (1) DOI: 10.1186/s40168-017-0254-x
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