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Allergies and Asthma, Arthritis, and Immunology of Inflammation

Published on August 26, 2016 in Cornerstone Blog · Last updated 4 months ago


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Welcome to another weekly roundup of research news from The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia! This week’s highlights are an alliterative array to close out the month of August, with a study linking asthma with other allergies and news on progress against arthritis in kids. Plus, an immunology discovery could lead to treatments for inflammatory disorders. Read on for the details below.

Children with Food Allergies Predisposed to Asthma and Allergic Rhinitis

Children with a history of food allergy have a high risk of developing asthma and allergic rhinitis during childhood, too, according to a large new epidemiological study from researchers at CHOP. And the more food allergies a child has, the greater the risk. The study is a retrospective analysis of the electronic health records of more than one million urban and suburban children in the CHOP Care Network from 2001 to 2015. The findings were published in the journal BMC Pediatrics.

“For patients with an established diagnosis of food allergy, 35 percent went on to develop asthma; and patients with multiple food allergies were at increased risk of developing asthma as compared to those with a single food allergy,” said senior author Jonathan Spergel, MD, PhD, chief of the division of Allergy and Immunology and the holder of the Stuart Starr Chair of Pediatrics at CHOP, in a CHOP press release. “Similarly, 35 percent of patients with food allergy went on to develop allergic rhinitis.”

We will bring you more details about other fascinating aspects of the study in an upcoming Cornerstone post based on our conversation with first author and CHOP Allergy Fellow, David Hill, MD, PhD.

From Black and White to Bright Future for Juvenile Arthritis

Black-and-white photos of three crippled children, withered away by their immune systems’ attacks on their own bodies’ joints, bones, and muscles, were the “before” pictures projected on-screen during a presentation earlier this month by CHOP Rheumatology Division Chief Edward Behrens, MD.

“We don't see children like that anymore,” Dr. Behrens is quoted as saying in a Philadelphia Inquirer report about the Arthritis Foundation's annual Juvenile Arthritis conference.

Decades of progress have brought new treatments for juvenile arthritis, an umbrella category that includes many different autoimmune conditions, and that only rarely closely resembles rheumatoid arthritis in older adults.

“The future looks even brighter,” Dr. Behrens said. “I'm looking forward to improved quality of life for my patients and, yes, someday even a cure.”

Read more in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Molecular Discovery Adds Insight into Regulation of Immune, Inflammatory Responses

Many of us who are not scientists still remember from biology class that DNA in our bodies works by keeping the code for RNA, and the code in that RNA gets translated into proteins that do the work of our bodies’ cells. What you might not have learned if you didn’t go on to become a biologist is that only about two percent of our DNA actually codes for proteins in this way. About 70 percent of the human genome produces RNA molecules that do not go on to form proteins — but what most of these RNA molecules actually do is largely unknown.

Jorge Henao-Mejia, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at CHOP and the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, discovered the gene for one of these long non-coding RNAs, called Morrbid, during his postdoctoral fellowship at Yale in 2013. And this month, he led a team that published a new finding that helps explain what Morrbid does in the body and how it might be a useful target for drugs for certain inflammatory diseases.

His team reported in Nature based on their mouse studies that Morrbid regulates a gene pathway that controls when the body removes certain immune cells from circulation through programmed cell death. Keeping these immune cells in balance is critical for a body’s healthy functioning, because having too few leaves the body vulnerable to infection, while too many can attack healthy tissues. Understanding this function of Morrbid is especially promising because the human version of its gene is known to be impaired in a condition involving inflammation and organ damage caused by long-lived immune cells, called hypereosinophilic syndrome.

“Knowing this, Morrbid might be a good drug target for this uncommon disease and maybe even has a potential role for chronic diseases like asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, or cancer, all of which have an errant inflammatory component to their symptoms,” Dr. Henao-Mejia said in a Penn Medicine news release. “In the near future, we would like to concentrate our efforts to develop strategies to modulate the function of MORRBID in human cells as an effective therapeutic tool against inflammatory disease.”


In case you missed it earlier this week on Cornerstone, we brought you a perspective from CHOP Chief Scientific Officer Bryan A. Wolf, MD, PhD, about behavioral health research that contributes to bringing kids back to school ready to learn and thrive.

Last week’s In the News post covered returning to school after a summer concussion, CPR for pets, and undergraduate scholars getting a taste of research at CHOP.

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