New Hope In Fight Against Childhood Asthma Epidemic

Pioneering research at Monash University aims to prevent thousands developing asthma.

Almost 2.5 million Australians have asthma, and Melbourne's Monash University hopes its new research program will significantly reduce this number.

"Australia has a major problem. It has one of the highest levels of allergies in the world," said Professor Ben Marsland.

"With asthma we are talking about one in ten children, so it is a major epidemic in Australia."

2.5 million Australians have asthma. Photo: Getty Images

Monash University lured Marsland to its Department of Immunology and Pathology to continue his research in to prevention childhood asthma through the Veski Innovation fellowship.

"The idea behind this is children first develop allergies on their skin and that can lead to food allergies and asthma," Marsland told ten daily.

Marsland, who has spent eight years in Switzerland studying allergies in children, said while this is not the only way children develop asthma, it is the "framework" that is often used to talk about asthma development.

"Our goal is to find a way to stop that process from developing," he said.

One in 10 children in Australia have asthma. Photo: Getty Images

The research will look at the microbiomes on the body -- the the bacteria and fungi that lives on the body, on the skin and in the gut and lungs -- and how this can used in disease development.

"We know the microbiome really influences the development of disease," Marsland said.

"So can we give kids for example, certain types of microbes that will protect against allergies."

The research aims to prevent asthma, not treat it. Photo: Getty Images

The research will also look at by-passing the microbes entirely, and use the factors that the microbes produce, called metabolites, to be given to children to prevent allergies Marsland said.

The next step is putting the research into practice, and finding a way of administering the preventative methods.

"It would be given either by a probitoic [bacteria] or prebiotic [food that feeds bacteria]," he said.

Asthma can develop through other allergies. Photo: Getty Images

Or the bacteria would be by-passed entirely by the metabolites -- small molecules produced by the bacteria -- which can be placed directly on the skin or consumed to protect the immune system or direct the immune system away from allergies said Marsland.

What is key reason for this research, Marsland said, was significantly reducing the number of people developing asthma.

"The goal is not to find ways of treating asthma, but to prevent it."