It's not new that dwellers and cities are a little less hearty than rural cousins. There is even a hygiene hypothesis that says kids in the country get dirtier to their benefit and that wealthy, educated helicopter parenting and all those hand sanitizers and antibacterial soaps are doing more harm than good.

Allergies and numerous autoimmune diseases, such as asthma and type 1 diabetes, have become more common in the past 50 years, especially in urban environments. The belief is this is caused by urban issues like pollutants from human activities, a higher level of hygiene and the reduced biological diversity of the city living environment.

“Up to one-fifth of the population in industrialized countries suffers from serious disorders of the immune system. In the EU alone, the annual expenses of these disorders have been estimated to total over 100 billion euros,” says Dr. Aki Sinkkonen of the University of Helsinki Department of Environmental Sciences, Finland.

Sinkkonen runs the multidisciplinary ADELE project, which studies new ways to help the immune system function better in cities. Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation, granted 2.5 million Euros to be distributed over a period of two and a half years for the first phase of the five-year project. ADELE involves research groups from the University of Helsinki, the University of Tampere and the Tampere University of Technology, as well as experts from the business world, the Natural Resources Institute Finland, the Universities of Oulu and Turku, the Czech Republic and the US.

 “The project combines urban design with the latest results from medicine and environmental ecology. We will also benefit from the experiences accumulated while developing a diabetes vaccine, as well as from biodiversity research and various population surveys,” Sinkkonen  explains. “One of the goals is to create commercial products.” 

Source: Helsingin yliopisto