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Artificial immune system tailors vaccines for newborns

Artificial immune system tailors vaccines for newborns

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A new model of the immature immune system promises to boost the development of vaccines specifically for newborn babies, which are lacking. This'll help test vaccines before trialing them in babies.

A new model of the immature immune system – the first of its kind – promises to boost the development of vaccines designed specifically for newborn babies.

Around 1 million newborns die a year from preventable diseases, and since many of these babies won't be seen by health professionals again, the best way to protect them would be to vaccinate at birth. New Scientist reports.

A lot of infections happen early in life. However, very few vaccines are designed specifically for newborn – most are developed for adults and adapted for younger people. A baby’s immune system tends to mount a weaker response to foreign agents in the body, and immunity from an adult vaccine wanes just months afterwards.

So, Guzman Sanchez-Schmitz of Harvard Medical School and colleagues created a new way of modeling the newborn immune system. It’s also the first artificial immune system to consist entirely of human components.

  1. They took blood from human umbilical veins and used it to culture 2 types of cells: those that make up blood vessel walls and white blood cells (which are all key in immune responses).
  2. They grew these cells in the collagen matrix that forms the physical and biochemical support system in the body.
  3. The system is topped off with newborn plasma (the liquid part of blood).

Like a real newborn’s immune system, the white blood cells passed through blood vessel wall cells and transformed into dendritic cells – which recognize foreign material and flag it for other immune cells – just as they would when they come across a pathogen in the body.

In an experiment, the team found that the model responded to the BCG vaccine for tuberculosis in the same way that newborns have in clinical trials.

Their model provides a reliable way to test vaccines before trialing them in newborns. "The aim is to do a clinical trial in a test tube," says study researcher Ofer Levy also of Harvard.

The work was presented at the American Association of Immunologists' annual meeting in Boston earlier this month.

[Via New Scientist]

Image by Michael Melchiorre via Flickr

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Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure