Trinity scientists have made a breakthrough discovery that could revolutionise the way vaccines are administered to infants and newborns.
Dr Kiva Brennan, a Research Fellow in Trinity’s School of Medicine, and her team at the National Children’s Research Centre (NCRC), have demonstrated a heightened immune response in neonates.
The team’s research aims to find an adjuvant that kick-starts the immature infant’s immune system. Adjuvants act as “danger signals” that instruct the immune system to mount a response to the infection. The research carried out by Brennan’s team has revealed a strong immune response in newborns to cytosolic nucleic acid (CNA).
Young babies and infants are limited in their ability to produce an immune response to infection as well as in response to vaccines. Therefore, in order to compliment the developing immune system of a baby, vaccines are given across a 13-month period. This means the infant is vulnerable to the vaccine-targeted diseases before the necessary vaccine is given.
Brennan’s team observed that the CNA sensors induced “robust antiviral and pro-inflammatory pathways”. Viruses are non-beneficial and so infants tend to mount stronger and more sustained anti-viral responses.
Babies and young infants do not have the same immunological capabilities as adults do. An individual’s innate, or non-specific, immune system isn’t fully developed until puberty.
In a press statement, Brennan said: “Many adjuvants used in vaccines today were developed in adults.”
“However, babies and children are not simply little adults, and because of this, a child’s immune system responds differently to that of an adult.”
A strong response like the one demonstrated by Brennan’s team indicates that vaccines could be given at an earlier age despite the baby’s less developed immune system, while mounting the same effective immune response.
Dr Sarah Doyle, a senior author and Assistant Professor in Immunology at Trinity, said: “Improving paediatric vaccine efficacy has the potential to reduce both the age of administration and the need for multiple booster injections, likely increasing compliance and protecting more of the paediatric population with fewer doctors’ visit