Copenhagen: The gene types that normally double the risk of asthma are neutralised when families with new-borns have a cat. This is the result of a study from the Danish Pediatric Asthma Center conducted by researchers at the University of Copenhagen, Herlev-Gentofte Hospital and Næstved Hospital. The study has been published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
time just before and after a child is born is vital to whether the
child will develop asthma – and possibly other diseases. This is the
result of research conducted by the Danish Pediatric Asthma Center,
COPSAC, which is a collaboration between the University of Copenhagen
and Herlev-Gentofte Hospital, among others, and headed by Clinical
Professor Hans Bisgaard. More precisely, having a cat can be a deciding
Hans Bisgaard is excited by the result. Not because the
result can be translated into concrete treatment right away, but because
the study shows that a disease gene in the human body is turned on and
off depending on the immediate surroundings.
The results show
that cats remove the increased risk of asthma among children with a
specific variant of the 17q21 gene. The gene variant is the strongest
known factor for whether a child will develop asthma. In addition,
profound analyses of the researchers’ material show that cats do not
just protect against asthma, but also against pneumonia and bronchitis
among toddlers and children with this gene variant. This is linked up
with the fact that the 17q21 gene is known to be involved in all three
Næstved Hospital a group of researchers from the Danish Pediatric Asthma
Center have examined data from 377 Danish children of mothers suffering
The researchers have mapped the children’s genes
and gathered data on the children’s surroundings throughout their
childhood, among other things by taking samples from the children’s
homes and by interviewing the parents.
‘What is special about the
results is that they document the interaction between genetics and the
environment – how a disease gene in the body can be turned on and off
depending on the immediate surroundings’, says Jakob Stokholm, who is
the principal author of the article published in the Journal of Allergy
and Clinical Immunology.
Almost every third child in the study has the gene variant, just as many children of mothers with asthma have it.
Dogs Do Not Work
The study also shows that only cats can prevent the development of asthma. Having a dog does not affect the child’s genes.
still do not know why cats may be able to prevent asthma among this
group of children, while dogs do not. Perhaps cats bring home different
bacteria than dogs, and these bacteria affect the immune system. Perhaps
cats affect the bacteria communities in the body, e.g. in the bowels,
which many research results link to our health’, says Jakob Stokholm.
‘Also we do not know how much cat is required – or whether it has to be a particular type of cat’, he continues.
Jakob Stokholm explains, much more research is required before it makes
sense to advice people to get a cat to prevent asthma. Especially
because having a cat may also have health-related drawbacks. An older
study also conducted by the Danish Pediatric Asthma Center shows that
cats activate a gene that causes infantile eczema.
‘It will be
interesting to take this research further. If we are able to explain why
cats can affect the genes, it may in the long run enable us to show how
we can prevent asthma among these high-risk children’, says Jakob
One of the next steps of the researchers at the Danish
Pediatric Asthma Center is to study the children’s intestinal bacteria
to look for more explanations or causes there.
Read the article in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology