Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Immunology
In recent years, allergies have become an increasingly prevalent health problem in America. Asthma is the leading cause of school absenteeism. Lethal anaphylactic reactions are feared from peanuts in schools and on airplanes. The research of Dr. Adam Matson is aimed at characterizing ways in which mothers may influence the development of allergies in their children. A particular research focus has been to identify immune factors in breast milk that are responsible for reducing the risk of allergies and asthma in breastfed children.
Working in collaboration with researchers at UConn Health, Dr. Matson has developed animal models of allergic disease that demonstrate the ability of breast milk IgG (protective proteins made by the mother’s immune system and ingested by the neonate during breastfeeding) to prevent the development of allergic reactions in offspring. Based on these results, one could consider increasing maternal IgG levels (e.g., maternal immunization) as a possible method of preventing allergic responses in children.
Dr. Matson is also investigating the movement of substances across the placenta that may promote the development of allergies in children. IgE is a type of protein found in the bloodstream of humans that is commonly associated with allergies. Newborns who are found to have high levels of IgE in their blood at birth (cord blood IgE) are at an increased risk for developing allergies such as asthma, eczema, and allergic rhinitis later in life.
Right now we are not sure if cord blood IgE is produced by the baby before birth or is made by the mother and transferred across the placenta before the baby is born. Dr. Matson is investigating a potential way that a mother’s IgE may be transferred across the placenta and into the circulation of the baby. This is important because if cord blood IgE was found to come from the mother, additional studies could focus on reducing the transfer of IgE from the mother to the baby as a way of preventing allergies in children.
When we better understand the immunologic relationship between the mother and child and more clearly define factors that influence the development of allergies early in life, therapeutic interventions may be designed to prevent the initiation of allergic disease in childhood.