Researchers one step closer to preventing asthma in children

15 February 2022

Respiratory researchers may have found the key to prevent babies from developing asthma, after investigating how their immune systems can be boosted in their first winter to help fight-off lung infections.

The research, led by PhD student Niamh Troy from The University of Western Australia and Wal-yan Respiratory Research Centre, built on findings from clinical trials at The University of Queensland.

The 2019 study showed an immune-boosting medication that contains a mixture of dead bacteria (OM85) protected babies from severe lung infections.

“Severe respiratory viral infections in early life are linked to asthma development later in life,” Ms Troy said.

“Our previous research found it was possible to reduce the severity of respiratory infections in babies using OM85 but for this study we wanted to understand how it changed their immune system.

“Understanding why this treatment works is critical to progressing this therapy into routine clinical care – and hopefully one day preventing children from developing asthma.”

The research looked at how giving OM85 to babies at risk of developing asthma improved their defences against respiratory viruses.

“We were looking at the innate immune system – which is the body’s first line of defence. If it’s not working well and doesn’t detect and fight early enough, the infection can take hold,” Ms Troy said.

“Our innate immune system is sensitive to our environment, and the harmless bacteria that we are exposed to help to keep our innate immune system fit.

“But our lifestyles have changed, and our innate immune system may not be getting the signals that it needs, especially in early life.

“We found that the babies who received the treatment had a stronger immune ‘alarm’ system that sent a signal to the immune system in the early stages of infection.

“We also found those babies had lower inflammatory responses to infection.”

Professor Peter Sly, from the UQ Child Health Research Centre, said the new data would help researchers understand why OM85 had been used so successfully in Europe for decades.

“This research has shown how important a healthy environment is in helping an infant’s immune system to mature normally,” Professor Sly said.

“In this study OM85 has been able to mimic the stimuli normally provided by the environment to help mature infant’s immune responses to infections and prevent severe lower respiratory illnesses.”

These findings could help develop a vaccine-like approach to prevent asthma – a goal of the Wal-yan Centre.

“By understanding how OM85 helps babies to fight off respiratory infections, we’re one step closer to understanding how to prevent them going on to develop asthma,” Ms Troy said.

The research is published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (DOI:

The Wal-yan Centre is a partnership between Telethon Kids Institute, Perth Children’s Hospital Foundation and Perth Children’s Hospital. Ms Troy’s supervisor on this work was Professor Pat Holt, of Telethon Kids Institute.