Scientists from the School of Medicine at Trinity College Dublin have identified a class of ‘danger signals’ that are highly efficient at triggering an immune response in infants.
Immunisations are scheduled over the first 13 months of life to coincide with the maturation of the infant immune system.
There is a window of vulnerability where infants are susceptible to vaccine-preventable infections — the most common cause of mortality in early life. Vaccines, such as the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella), are only administered when a child is one year old.
Adjuvants in vaccines are critical, not only for triggering the immune system into action but also for directing the type of response best suited to fight a particular infection.
The study’s senior author, Dr Sarah Doyle, said many adjuvants currently used in vaccines were developed in human adult samples and adults’ blood.
“Because the immune system is quite different in the paediatric population they don’t always respond as well. That is why there are so many boosters in the immunisation schedule,” she said.
The scientists, whose findings are published in the journal Immunology, tested the immune system’s ability to respond in umbilical cord blood and found a pathway that worked really well.
“What we want to do now is harness that finding so that we can use it to improve vaccines into the future,” she said.
Funding raised by the Children’s Medical Research Foundation was allocated to the project by the National Children’s Research Centreat the end of 2013.
Dr Doyle said less than 2% of overall medical research funding in Ireland is for paediatrics.