Asthma is the most common chronic disease of childhood, affecting one in seven Canadian children (and more than three million Canadians of all ages). It is the most common reason for children to be admitted to hospital and for them to miss school. It is also expensive, costing more than $2 billion per year in Canada. Treatments can manage symptoms, but there is no cure, only the slight hope that children will “grow out of it.”
Dr. Stuart Turvey, his team at the University of British Columbia and the CHILD study team are focusing on early diagnosis and prevention, two factors that can reduce the personal and economic toll of asthma. Their sample of choice comes from dirty diapers: by using powerful genomics technologies to analyze stools, they may be able to predict which infants will go on to develop asthma. The reason? Evidence has shown that babies who go on to develop asthma tend to be missing key microbes in their intestines (the microbiome, as it is known) in the first few months of life. Beyond predicting who may develop asthma, thus enabling early diagnosis, the research will guide the ethical development of ways to replace these microbes, to prevent asthma from developing at all.