Thursday, December 28, 2000

Acid, allergy link found

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati researchers say they have found a surprising link between airborne allergens and a common gastrointestinal problem called acid reflux.

        In addition, researchers at Children's Hospital Medical Center report a possible way to prevent the problem that involves drugs already being tested in humans as a treatment for asthma.

        The new study, by Drs. Marc Rothenberg and Anil Mishra, was published Wednesday in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

        “The concept that things we breathe can affect the gut is fairly novel,” Dr. Rothenberg said.

        The allergy-reflux connection has evolved from efforts to understand why a food allergy clinic at Children's Hospital has seen an increase in patients with eosinophilic esophagitis, a condition very similar to acid reflux in adults.

        Children with this condition have difficulty swallowing, abdominal pain, vomiting and weight loss. Five years ago, such cases were rare. Now the hospital treats about 60 cases a year.

        When given skin allergy tests, about 80 percent of these children appear allergic to several things, including pollens and molds more commonly known for aggravating asthma.

        To learn more, the scientists used a common allergen to induce asthma in mice. The study revealed that many of the mice also developed gastrointestinal problems.

        Next, they tried to induce asthma and reflux in mice that were genetically engineered so they did not produce a protein called interleukin-5, which is thought to play a role in triggering allergic reactions in the lung.

        It turned out that none of the mice without IL-5 developed a reflux problem.

        “Two major pharmaceutical companies have an antibody in human trials that blocks IL-5,” Dr. Rothenberg said. “These drugs are being tried for asthma, but based on our findings, I'd like to see IL-5 blockers tried in patients with eosinophilic esophagitis.”

        If successful in children with this problem, the drug may also benefit adults with reflux problems that have not been controlled by other medications, he said.


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