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Dogs Reduce Asthma In Kids

on October 16, 2009
Posted in Fun

If you have been cautiously afraid of getting a dog for fear of your children developing asthma, you can now rest easy!

A preliminary study conducted by researchers at the University of Arizona’s College of Pharmacy, has indicated that having a dog in the house could actually reduce any chances of children developing asthma later in their lives.

The Grant

The National Institutes of Health greatly approved of the study and awarded the research team a two year Challenge Grant in the amount of $937,302. The Challenge Grant is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which was signed into law in February 2009 by President Obama.

The funds will be used by Professor Serrine Lau, head of the College of Pharmacy, to study this hypothesis over the course of the next two years.

More specifically, the grant money will be used by the researchers to study how dogs that are present in the home around the time of a baby’s birth might actually decrease his or her chance of developing asthma later in childhood.

Professor Lau has explained that so far, the National Institutes of Health has received more than 20,000 grant proposals.

The Arizona Initiative for the Biology of Complex Diseases, which is directed by Dr. Vercelli, one of the co-researchers, helped fund Professor Lau’s project initially.

The Researchers

Professor Lau, who is also the director of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and a member of the BIO5 Institute, explains the research findings as such:

“Several longitudinal studies have shown that exposure to certain domestic animals, for example, indoor dogs, during a person’s early life (even possibly before he or she is born) is associated with strong protection against asthma and asthma-related conditions later in life. The purpose of our research is to learn more about the biological mechanisms responsible for the protective effects of dog exposure. Conceivably, this could be a step toward someday leveraging these mechanisms for treatment or even preventive purposes.”

Other University of Arizona faculty members, Marilyn Halonen, and Dr. Donata Vercelli, both experts in allergy biology and immunology, and Dean Billheimer, a biostatistician, will team up with Professor Lau, an expert in proteomics. It is predicted that together, their combined expertise will be used to study a unique set of samples and data from the Infant Immune Study.

The Infant Immune Study

Eight years ago a longitudinal study of asthma and allergy, was conducted at the UA’s Arizona Respiratory Center and involved the enrollment at birth of a large unselected population of children. Throughout the years information on these children has been gathered detailing immunological parameters, allergies and lung function.

The Hypothesis

Professor Lau’s research team hypothesizes that exposure to dogs at a very early age, just after birth, for example, creates a “signature” (either the presence or the modification of a protein) in a baby’s blood.

The research team hopes to reveal how babies and young children exposed to dogs early in their lives are protected from having asthma later on in their lives, by comparing the signatures of children who were exposed to dogs with the signatures of children who were not exposed to dogs, as well as by noting whether or not asthma is present or absent in the children.

Samples that have been taken from the Infant Immune Study will be examined by Professor Lau’s research team using a unique method involving mass spectrometry-based proteomics. Furthermore, mass spectrometry will be utilized by the researchers in an attempt to both identify and characterize the signatures contained inside the blood of the children.

To date, this particular technology has not been, and is not being, used by any other researcher for this particular purpose.

Children and Dogs

People, both dog-lovers/owners and non-dog lovers/owners have agreed that having a dog, or in any other type of pet for that matter, in the house can create
many benefits for children.

Pets are able to teach children how to share, such as in the case of the family dog wanting to sleep on and share the bed with the child.

Being responsible is another aspect to owning a dog or cat. Children learn how to properly take care of their dog or cat by learning how and when to feed them, walk them and, clean up after them too.

Another aptitude that children acquire through pet ownership is how to be gentle. Rough-housing will most often result in the children or the pet being hurt otherwise.

Learning to listen, especially to any loud growls or hisses from dogs and cats. These sounds will quickly teach a child to be nice and not pull the cat’s tail or hit the dog.

Finally, a pet teaches a dog how to love and be loved.

Photo Credit: Jacobim Mugatu

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Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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