New Zealand researchers will carry out a multi-million dollar, world first study to prove whether there is a link between babies being given paracetamol and the development of asthma.

Auckland paediatric emergency medicine specialist at Starship Children's Hospital Dr Stuart Dalziel has received $4.99 million from the Health Research Council of New Zealand to carry out the trial which will include 3900 infants born at Auckland, Middlemore and Wellington hospitals.

The International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood, the largest international epidemiological study of childhood asthma, included data from more than 200,000 in 31 countries and suggested that paracetamol given in the first year of life may influence the risk of developing later asthma.

Dalziel said it was unclear if the finding was due to the paracetamol itself or to the illness that led to it being given - for example, a chest infection.


"With this new trial, we will definitively answer whether paracetamol treatment, compared with ibuprofen treatment, as required for pain and fever in the first year of life, increases the risk of asthma at age six years," he said.

Dalziel said there was an urgent need for research that led to evidence-based primary prevention strategies to reduce the prevalence of asthma in children.

"To date, randomised controlled trials looking at the primary prevention of asthma have focused on dietary modification, probiotics, encouraging breast feeding, and avoidance of environmental triggers such as tobacco smoke, house dust mites and other allergens. Unfortunately, none of the intervention strategies trialled has provided sufficient evidence to lead to widespread public health intervention programmes," he said

Health Research Council acting chief executive Dr Tania Pocock said asthma rates in New Zealand remained stubbornly among the highest in the world.

One in seven children and one in nine adults received treatment for asthma in New Zealand.

"If the results confirm that there is an association between paracetamol in infancy and later asthma, we will have the evidence for a public health intervention that has the potential to reduce New Zealand's high rate of asthma.

"If, on the other hand, the results don't confirm an association, it will provide reassurance to parents and medical professionals that this most commonly used medicine is safe," Pocock said.

Dalziel's study was one of five programme grants awarded worth a total of $24.85m in the Health Research Council's 2017 funding round.

The council also awarded $56.5m worth of project grants to 51different recipients.

One of those went to Otago University biochemistry Professor Iain Lamont. He received a project grant worth $1.15m to uncover the genetic mutations that led to antibiotic resistance in the superbug Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

The bug caused hundreds of thousands of infections each year internationally and constant exposure to antibiotics had led to an alarming increase in resistant strains that were difficult or impossible to treat, resulting in thousands of deaths per year, he said.

Lamont's team would aim to provide the first full overview of mutations that lead to high-level resistance by developing highly resistant mutants of P. aeruginosa under controlled laboratory conditions and comparing those with the mutations that occurred during infection.