A promising new way of controlling the mites that can cause asthma and other allergies is now under development.
It could lead to dramatic progress in preventing these conditions and reduce the estimated £700 million a year spent in the UK on treating them.
The technique uses a computer model to assess how modifying a domestic environment can reduce numbers of house dust mites in beds, carpets and elsewhere.
Development of the model has been led by University College London (UCL), in collaboration with Cambridge University and other partners, and with funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). A 2 year follow-up project, also funded by EPSRC, will now improve the model and test it in homes around the UK.
Although almost invisible to the naked eye, house dust mites play a major role in asthma and other allergic conditions. The original EPSRC funded project found that mite numbers are heavily influenced by environmental conditions in homes, and by the heating regime, ventilation and humidity in particular. It produced a prototype model – the most advanced of its kind – that can assess how different building features and patterns of occupant use affect these conditions, and therefore house dust mite numbers. Room conditions are important because dust mites have a unique mechanism for taking up water which involves dribbling a salt solution from under their armpits to their mouth. This mechanism enables mites to take up water from the room air. If the room conditions become dry this salt solution crystallises, the mechanism stops and hence the mites dehydrate and eventually die.
The new project represents the next step in developing the model for use in devising anti-mite strategies for a range of UK house types. It will include laboratory monitoring of mite population growth in a range of conditions, which will generate data essential to the effectiveness of the model.
To validate the model, the project will also include a field study involving 60 houses across the country. This will measure temperature and humidity in bedrooms and beds, and monitor mite populations found in the beds.
Harnessing building science and acarology (the study of mites and ticks), the initiative is being led by Professor Tadj Oreszczyn of UCL. He said, "we aim to identify how homes can be designed and used so that mite populations are reduced to below the threshold at which health problems occur".
Notes for Editors:
The current research initiative, "Controlling House Dust Mites by Environmental Means: Validation of a Combined Hygrothermal Population Model", will receive EPSRC funding of over £197,000. It will involve scientists at UCL, the University of Cambridge and London South Bank University, as well as industrial partners Insect Research & Development Ltd and Acaris Healthcare Solutions plc. The industrial partners, will provide equipment, facilities and analysis for both the laboratory experiments and the field study, and also help to steer the project and disseminate the results into real applications.
The original research initiative, "A Hygrothermal Model of House Dust Mite Response to Environmental Conditions in Dwellings", received total EPSRC funding of nearly £201,000. It involved UCL, the University of Cambridge, London South Bank University and Insect Research & Development Ltd.
There are currently 8 million asthma sufferers in the UK, with nearly 20,000 new cases diagnosed every year.
Human health is affected not by house dust mites themselves but by the allergens they produce in their faeces, which are the perfect size to get stuck inside people's lungs. To predict the allergens' effect on human health, a submodel needs to be developed that simulates the rate at which they are produced for a given mite population. The experiments to provide the data required to develop the submodel will be carried out as part of a separate EPSRC-funded project.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK's main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. EPSRC invests more than £500 million a year in research and postgraduate training to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and from mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements in everyone's health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC also actively promotes public awareness of science and engineering. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK. Website address for more information on EPSRC: http://www.epsrc.ac.uk
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