Led by researchers in Australia, an international team of scientists uncovered new genetic associations for allergies, asthma, and eczema by studying how soon in life individuals developed those conditions.
The researchers identified 76 genetic variants associated with these sorts of allergic diseases in or near 18 different genes. They found that about 50 of the variants are associated with both a higher risk for developing allergic diseases and developing one of these conditions at a very early age.
The significance of the finding is that it can help determine the overall “genetic burden” for developing allergies, or asthma or eczema, according to the co-lead author of the study Manuel Ferreira, Ph.D., a specialist in the genetics of asthma formerly at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane, Australia.
In this study, the findings indicate that people with the highest genetic risk are likely developing one of these conditions earliest in life. Those with the lowest genetic risk may never develop symptoms. Using this insight also helped researchers identify new genetic associations for these conditions.
While genetics plays an important role, environmental factors also influence the risk of developing an allergic condition. But the findings will help researchers better understand why and how allergic disease develops in some individuals and not others, as well as understand the genetic influences.
Ferreira, now at Regeneron, previously worked on a study that found overlapping genetic risk factors for allergic diseases, such as asthma and hay fever, which used data from 23andMe.
For this study, the researchers used data from the dozens of previously published genome-wide association studies for allergic disease — some of which included data from 23andMe, as well as the UK Biobank and others.
You can read the full study in PLOS Genetics.