The 1000th ERC project: Where asthma bites the dust
01 June 2010

Parents may threat at the idea of their children playing in fields and sheds, but research shows that those who grew up in farms, where this is common occurrence, are less likely to suffer from allergies and asthma. Prof. Erika von Mutius leads a team of researchers, that uses this knowledge to investigate how we could treat such conditions more effectively. © iStockPhoto

Cover image of The 1000th ERC project: Where asthma bites the dust

Asthma and allergies are complex diseases which are caused by genetic and environmental factors. Available therapies only control symptoms, and cannot cure or prevent these conditions. Earlier work by Prof. Erika von Mutius and her team showed that children who grow up on farms, where they are exposed to a wide variety of microbes, are less likely to develop asthma and allergies. This prompted the researchers to compare the effects of growing up on different types of farms and in non-farming communities on the immune systems of children. These studies have now progressed to the point where a systematic attempt can be made to identify the protective microbes and their immunostimulatory components. This is what the project HERA (“Host-environment interactions in protection from asthma and allergies”) is intended to achieve. In the first step, the plan is to characterize the microbial ecology of samples that have already been collected. Newly developed methods will then be used to dissect how components of these pathogens stimulate the human immune system. The hope is to identify those microbes whose presence protects against asthma and allergies, and to clarify how this depends on the genetic constitution of the individual human host. The longer-term goal is to isolate the active compounds from these pathogens, and use them as starting points for the synthesis of novel and effective agents which prevent the development of asthma and allergy.

Erika von Mutius was born in 1957. She studied Medicine at LMU from 1976 to 1984, and was Board certified in pediatrics in 1992. After fulfilling Habilitation requirements in 1998, she earned a Master of Science degree from Harvard School of Public Health in the year 2000. She became Professor of Pediatrics at LMU in 2004. As Senior Physician of the Dr. von Hauner Children’s Hospital, she also serves as Head of the Asthma and Allergology Department. She is a member of the Editorial Board of the New England Journal of Medicine. Prof. von Mutius is being awarded a five year Advanced Grant from the European Research Council. The grant will enable her to undertake the HERA Project, whose aim is to find new strategies for the prevention of asthma and allergies.

Project information

Host-environment interactions in the protection from asthma and allergies
Erika Von Mutius
Host institution:
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet Muenchen
Call details
ERC-2009-AdG, LS7
ERC Funding
2 155 697 €