Diet and Disease


Lifestyle choices, including diet and nutrition, influence the composition of the microbiota and its development following birth, which may have important implications for health and disease in both the young and the elderly. Diet can rapidly induce remarkable changes in the microbiota that have been associated with increased risk for inflammation, allergic disease and autoimmunity. Using an array of experimental systems and technologies the aim of Farncombe researchers is to decipher the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying the impact of dysbiosis on the development of peanut allergy and celiac disease.
Food allergy is a growing health problem that currently affects 5% of the North American population so that 3 million school-aged children are affected by food allergies in the US today. It can cause symptoms ranging from diarrhea, to urticaria, to life-threatening systemic reactions termed anaphylaxis. There are no available treatments except for epinephrine that can only be given after an anaphylactic reaction has occurred. We are particularly interested in peanut allergy, the prevalence of which has doubled over the last decade and currently stands at 1.7%. Unlike other food allergies, peanut allergy is highly associated with anaphylaxis and typically not outgrown. We take the stance that identification of novel therapeutic targets requires a deep understanding of the immune processes driving and maintaining peanut allergy and anaphylaxis. In this regard, there is ample evidence in humans that alterations in the microbiota (dysbiosis) are associated with an increased prevalence of peanut and other food allergies.
Celiac disease, a chronic inflammatory condition of the intestine. It affects both children and adults and it is a serious illness suffered by at least 350,000 Canadians and millions worldwide. Although the disease can be diagnosed by a blood test, the majority of celiacs remain undiagnosed and its incidence is rising. Once celiac disease is properly diagnosed the only current management is the gluten free diet which is difficult to follow and expensive. Symptoms and inflammation may take years to resolve and thus novel therapeutic targets to treat celiac disease and prevent it rising incidence are being explored. At the Farncombe institute research is being conducted regarding the role that the intestinal microbiome plays in modulating the severity and risk of celiac disease (Verdu et al., Nat Rev Gastroenterol and Hepatol, 2015).

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