The intervention is a novel method for the primary prevention of asthma with enormous potential to have a public health impact, said Michael Cabana, MD, chief of the Department of General Pediatrics at UCSF Children's Hospital and principal investigator for the study. There currently are no known ways to prevent asthma, he said.
"It would be a great thing to be able to prevent asthma," Cabana said. "We believe that using probiotics is a safe and effective way to do that."
Probiotics are defined as micro-organisms administered in adequate amounts to confer beneficial health effects. They typically are chosen from bacteria that normally inhabit the gastrointestinal system and are therefore known to be safe.
Asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases of childhood and the most common cause of school absenteeism. Asthma is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes that causes airway obstruction, chest tightness, coughing and wheezing.
Called the Trial of Infant Probiotic Supplementation to Prevent Asthma, or TIPS, the study is based on the "hygiene hypothesis," which says that little or no exposure to bacteria and viruses during a critical period of infancy can lead to an imbalance in the immune system and result in diseases such as asthma, especially in high-risk groups, like children with parents who have asthma.
The study seeks to determine whether stimulating the immune system by giving an active probiotic supplement, Lactobacillus GG, can prevent or delay the appearance of early signs of asthma, such as wheezing, frequent runny nose, and eczema. Lactobacillus GG is a common bacterium found in yogurt and many other foods and often is given to treat diarrhea.