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Rapid action against climate change protects against immune-mediated diseases

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Climate change, environmental pollution and the decline in biodiversity affect our immune system and increase the risk of immune-mediated diseases such as asthma and allergies. An international team of researchers, including Prof. Harald Renz and Prof. Chrysanthi Skevaki, at the DZL Giessen/Marburg site, is investigating how these factors affect our health. They emphasise that rapid action against climate change would protect our planet and our own health.

Increasing pollutant emissions are causing fundamental environmental changes, which have negative consequences for our health. Climate change, pollution, and the loss of biodiversity weaken our immune system. A lack of positive ecological influences that strengthen it and increasing negative influences that attack it are leading to an increase in immune-mediated diseases such as asthma and cancer. Protective measures could pay off: Every dollar invested in combating climate change saves three dollars in healthcare costs. The research team, therefore, calls for urgent action for a healthy future.

Rise in allergies, asthma and cancer

The effects of man-made climate change and environmental pollution on our bodies are complex. A key factor is the damage they cause to our immune system. Toxic pollutants impair the epithelial barrier, leading to immune system dysregulation, resulting in autoimmune diseases and cancer.

A lack of biodiversity means that the immune system is not adjusted correctly, leading to an increase in allergies and asthma. Rising temperatures are changing the pollen season, increasing allergic reactions and allergies.

Climate change is also causing more natural disasters, which indirectly impacts our health. Forest fires caused by higher temperatures release particulate matter and pollutants that unbalance the immune system and exacerbate health problems.

Particularly affected are the most vulnerable members of society, who are at higher risk of immune-mediated diseases due to inadequate nutrition, lack of access to the natural environment and insufficiently safe and clean living conditions. Measures to address the health impacts of climate change must also consider equity to ensure a global recovery.

Adapt and mitigate

The scientists call for a two-pronged approach: adapting to climate change through improved nutrition and housing, access to nature and agricultural practices, and mitigating impacts by reducing emissions, improving air quality and promoting ecological biodiversity. However, to take effective action, we need data. This can be used to develop new measures and track the progress of existing measures.

The authors focus on three key data initiatives: Biomarkers, economic models and data science techniques. Biomarkers will detect immune-mediated diseases such as cancer caused by air pollution. At the same time, new financial models can quantify the damage caused by climate change and the cost benefits of mitigation measures. At the same time, data scientists are developing new approaches to decipher the multifactorial influences of our changing environment on our immune system.

"The health of the planet and human health are inextricably linked," emphasises the last author, Prof Kari Nadeau from Harvard University. "We can work together to build a better future by sharing insights and actions."

Original publication:

Agache I, Akdis C, Akdis M, Al-Hemoud A, Annesi-Maesano I, Balmes J, Cecchi L, Damialis A, Haahtela T, Haber AL, Hart JE, Jutel M, Mitamura Y, Mmbaga BT, Oh J-W, Ostadtaghizadeh A, Pawankar R, Prunicki M, Renz H, Rice MB, Filho NAR, Sampath V, Skevaki C, Thien F, Traidl-Hoffmann C, Wong GWK and Nadeau KC. Immune-mediated disease caused by climate change-associated environmental hazards: mitigation and adaptation. Front Sci (2024) 2:1279192. doi: 10.3389/fsci.2024.1279192

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