New CHILD research: Can breastfeeding help prevent food allergies?

Dr. Meghan Azad (University of Manitoba) and Dr. Jean Marshall (Dalhousie University) have been awarded over $742,000 from CIHR to support CHILD Study research on how breastfeeding can help prevent food allergies.

“It is well recognized that breastfeeding is beneficial to the future health of children,” note Drs Azad and Marshall. “One such benefit may be that breastfed babies have a lower risk of developing allergies, including food allergies, later in life. However, research findings on this topic have been inconsistent.”

There are a number of components to breast milk that help shape immune development, including beneficial bacteria and proteins that regulate the immune system, called cytokines. Recent research has further revealed that breast milk also contains a protein known as “soluble Toll-like receptor 2” (sTLR2), which can alter the way the body responds to bacteria and fungi in the environment.

“We suspect that immune regulators found in breast milk are critical for allergy prevention,” comments Dr. Azad.

“In our studies we will examine sTLR2, beneficial bacteria and other immune regulators in breast milk and determine the relationship between these factors and the development of allergic diseases in a large cohort of Canadian children from the national CHILD Study.”

The researchers will also conduct research on mice, to directly examine the importance of sTLR2 in milk for preventing food allergy in those animals.

The four-year CIHR Project Grant, for the study “The impact of soluble TLR2 and other immunomodulatory factors in breast milk on the development of allergic disease: translational research in pre-clinical models and the CHILD birth cohort,” was granted by the CIHR Institute for Nutrition, Metabolism and Diabetes.