Researchers from Trinity’s School of Medicine have identified a class of “danger signals” that trigger an immune response in infants and newborns, according to a study published in the Journal of Immunology.
The discovery may lead to a reduction in the age of vaccine administration and the need for multiple booster injections in infants and newborns.
Due to their immature immune system, newborns do not respond optimally to most vaccines. Immunisations are given over the first 13 months of life, but this leaves a window of time when newborns and young infants are susceptible to infections that are preventable with vaccines. One such case is the vaccine for mumps, measles, and rubella (MMR), which can only be administered when a child is one year old.
The researchers explored the theory that newborns may have a more robust immune response to viruses, as viruses do not benefit newborns unlike bacteria. As a result, they found a class of adjuvants, the component of a vaccine that triggers and directs immune response, which drives a very strong immune response in newborns.
The discovery may lead to adjuvants that specifically target the newborn immune response. Dr Kiva Brennan, lead author of the study and research fellow in the School of Medicine, 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.”
Senior author and assistant professor in Immunology, Dr Sarah Doyle, commented on the significance of the study, saying: “Harnessing these efficient anti-viral immune responses will help in the design of targeted adjuvants for paediatric vaccines by directly activating immune responses that are fully functional in infants and newborns. 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’ visits.”