Allergy :: Investigating causes of childhood allergies and their long term impact

A University of Melbourne longitudinal family study investigating risk factors for childhood allergic disorders and their consequences, has received $850,000 from the National Health and Medical Research Council, announced by the Commonwealth Government last week.

The University of Melbourne is one of seven universities around Australia to receive the Healthy Start to Life for All Australians Strategic Award, which focuses on early detection and prevention of children?s health problems.

Researchers of the family study aim to identify the risk factors for eczema, asthma, hay fever and food allergies and their impact on families and health care services by following up the families of babies who were recruited 15 years ago into the Melbourne Atopic Cohort Study (MACS).

?Allergic conditions are not like other diseases? says Dr Shyamali Dharmage, of the Centre for MEGA Epidemiology in the School of Population Health, The University of Melbourne, the Principal investigator of the 15-year follow-up of the MACS.

?They change over a person?s life time. For example some infants with eczema continue to have eczema or develop hay fever and asthma, while others do not. We have no information on causes of these changes. This next stage of the MACS is critical to determine these causes and identify the long-term impact of these diseases?, she said.

MACS began by recruiting 620 babies prior to birth. Only infants born into families with a history of allergic disease were included. All children recruited to the study had their family members and their home environment assessed at the time of birth. The children?s allergic conditions were monitored regularly over the first ten years of their life.

Dr David Hill, Foundation Director of the Department of Allergy Royal Children Hospital, Melbourne established this study and ran it during the first 10 years. He is now one of the key investigators of Dr Dharmage?s team as they move into the 15-year follow-up.

This study is collaboration between The University of Melbourne, Monash University, Murdoch Children?s Research Institute, University of Adelaide, New South Wales University and the Department of Human Services, Victoria. The stakeholder partners of this project are Victorian Asthma Foundation and Eczema Association of Australia.

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