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Chronic lung diseases can be "programmed"
The development of chronic lung diseases is often associated with risk factors to which our airways are exposed over the years. However, the foundations for the diseases could be set much earlier in our lives than previously thought.
According to the Cologne University Hospital, chronic lung diseases mainly affect adults from the age of 40. The diseases are often associated with certain risk factors, such as smoker's cough. However, the causes of chronic lung diseases can also be in the period before and after birth (perinatal period), reports the University Hospital Cologne. The budding pediatrician Dr. Dr. Alejandre Alcázar from the Clinic and Polyclinic for Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at the University Clinic in Cologne found out in his research that lung diseases are already "programmed" during organ development.
Development of the lungs prone to disorders
The perinatal period is undoubtedly of paramount importance for the development and maturation of all organs and organ functions. Research in recent years has made it clear that in this critical time window, the development processes are very sensitive to external influences and can be “programmed” in the long term, according to the Cologne University Hospital. The lungs occupy a special position because their maturation and growth continue well after birth. Influencing factors during pregnancy, such as child deficiency, overweight (obesity) or smoking by the mother, can adversely affect the lungs in growth, maturation and function.
Effects of the course of pregnancy on the development of children
After Dr. Alejandre Alcázar returned from Stanford University to Cologne University Hospital in 2015, he founded the Working Group (AG) Experimental Pneumology to further deepen the three research areas of ventilation, oxygen and nutrition. The focus is on the identification of molecular mechanisms of chronic lung diseases that have their origin in the critical perinatal development window, reports the University Hospital Cologne. In experimental animal models, the research team investigated "how special metabolic situations (deficiency in the fetus during pregnancy or maternal overweight) affect the child."
Perinatal and early childhood development with far-reaching consequences
In previous studies, the researchers had already demonstrated that malnutrition in the womb leads to impaired lung function. In the following studies, they found that "accelerated weight gain after birth can lead to asthma-like illness in the long term," according to the Cologne University Hospital. This new finding not only underlines the enormous importance of the early childhood development phase and perinatal programming, but also defines approaches for the prevention of chronic lung diseases. For his work, Dr. Alcázar receives the Heinrich Nestlé Science Award.
"If we know the molecular mechanisms that take place around childbirth, we can find new preventive approaches for chronic lung diseases," emphasizes Dr. Alcazar. It would be possible to intervene in the process before an illness develops and thus protect not only the child but also the later adult, explains the award winner. (fp)