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When we go on the defensive towards the environment: MedUni Vienna researches the relationship between climate change and allergies in an EU project

(Vienna, 14th October 2011) The climate change forecast for the next decades in Europe indicates, according to estimates by the World Climate Council, that the frequency of extreme weather such as periods of heat-waves, droughts and floods will increase. The impact on vegetation, agriculture and air quality may affect our health, especially as a consequence of an increased risk of allergy. The EU project, entitled “Atopic diseases in changing climate, land use and air quality”, is investigating this phenomenon and will launch on the 18th of October with a kick-off meeting in Vienna, which is being chaired by Michelle Epstein, from the MedUni Vienna Department of Dermatology. 

Atopic is defined as a genetically-determined inclination to generate excessive immune defence responses to harmless foreign proteins such as pollens, molds, and dust mites to name a few. These defence responses are caused by the formation of specific antibodies by the immune system that interact with the allergens causing allergic symptoms in the skin, nose, eyes, and lungs.

The EU project, which is being led by the MedUni Vienna, will focus on “Ambrosia artemisiifolia L.”,commonly called “ragweed”, which is a member of the aster family and is rapidly invading Europe. Ragweed pollen is highly allergenic and is responsible for causing mild to very severe hay fever, eczema and asthma. Says Epstein: "The importance of Ambrosia cannot be understated due to the alarming rate at which it is spreading through Europe and the very high frequency at which Europeans are becoming allergic to it. Our hope with this project is to improve our understanding of the changes of multiple environmental stress factors on allergic disease, develop scenarios of disease risk currently and in the future, and provide useful information for response policies at national and European levels."

The project plan involves investigating the effects of global warming, air quality and land use, on the distribution of Ambrosia artemisiifolia and its pollen, on human health using computer modelling, clinical studies and experimental models. Says Epstein: “We will be investigating at-risk patient groups including elderly and young children with Ambrosia allergy, searching for predictive biomarkers and combining all project data to help us understand the response to pollen in order to spot future trends and risks early on.”

The EU “Atopica” project includes a combination of cellular and molecular biologists, immunologists, allergists, dermatologists, climate researchers and air quality experts as well as land use specialists from Austria, France, Great Britain, Germany, Belgium, Italy, and Croatia. The project is set to run for three years.

On Tuesday, 18th October, as part of the kick-off meeting in Vienna from 9 a.m. to 10.30 a.m., there will be a public session, while from 11 a.m. until 12.00 p.m. there will also be an opportunity for the media to carry out interviews with the project's major partners. This meeting will be held in the Café Griensteidl, Michaelerplatz 2, 1010 Vienna.