SYDNEY: An Australian-led international study has pinpointed more than 100 genetic risk factors that explain why some people suffer from asthma, hay fever and eczema.
The study is touted as the first of its kind “designed specifically to find genetic risk factors that are shared among the three most common allergic conditions,” according to a media release on science news portal Scimex,
“Asthma, hay fever and eczema are allergic diseases that affect different parts of the body: the lungs, the nose and the skin,” the Brisbane-based QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute’s Manuel Ferreira, a medical doctor who led the study, was quoted as saying.
“This is important to know because it tells us which specific genes, when not working properly, cause allergic conditions. This knowledge helps us understand why allergies develop in the first place and, potentially, gives us new clues on how they could be prevented or treated,” he said,
The researchers analyzed the genomes of 360,838 people and pinpointed 136 separate genome positions considered to be risk factors for developing the conditions.
“If you are unlucky and inherit these genetic risk factors from your parents, it will predispose you to all three allergic conditions,” said Ferreira.
“Importantly, we have identified several drugs that we believe could be targeted at some of these genes to treat allergies. The first step would be to test those drugs in the laboratory,” he added.
The study, which was published in scientific journal Nature Genetics and included researchers from Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States, also examined if other factors might affect how the genes were “switched on or off”.
“For example, we found one gene – called PITPNM2 – that is more likely to be switched off in people who smoke. If this gene is switched off, then the risk of developing allergies increases,” said Ferreira.
About 11 percent of Australians, or 2.5 million people, reported having asthma between 2014 and 2015, figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed. Nearly one in five Australians, or almost 4.5 million people, suffered from hay fever during that period, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.