Growing up on an Amish Farm Protects Children Against Asthma, UAHS Collaborative Research Shows

News Release Date: 
Friday, August 5, 2016

House dust differences between Amish and Hutterite communities affect immune development and asthma risk, according to a study co-authored by University of Arizona Health Sciences researcher Donata Vercelli published Aug. 4 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

TUCSON, Ariz. – By probing the differences between two farming communities—the Amish of Indiana and the Hutterites of South Dakota—an interdisciplinary team of researchers found that specific aspects of the Amish environment are associated with changes to immune cells that appear to protect children from developing asthma.

In the Aug. 4 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers—from the University of Arizona, University of Chicago and the Dr. von Hauner Children’s Hospital in Munich, Germany—showed that substances in the house dust from Amish, but not Hutterite, homes were able to engage and shape the innate immune system (the body’s front-line response to most microbes) in young Amish children in ways that may suppress pathologic responses leading to allergic asthma.

“We have proven that the reason the Amish children are so strongly protected from asthma is how they live,” said study co-author, immunologist Donata Vercelli, MD, associate director of the Asthma and Airway Disease Research Center at the University of Arizona Health Sciences.

“We now have a model that over time may allow us to understand what component of the environment is required; basically, we are learning from the Amish environment how to prevent asthma,” added Dr. Vercelli, who also is professor of cellular and molecular medicine at the UA College of Medicine – Tucson, a member of the UA BIO5 Institute and director of the Arizona Center for the Biology of Complex Diseases.

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