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Study Sheds Light on How Immune System Works in Infants

TUESDAY, June 17, 2014 -- New insight into infants' immune systems could lead to improvements in vaccines that would better protect youngsters from infectious diseases, researchers report.

Compared to adults, infants' immune systems respond faster and more aggressively, but the protection they create lasts only a short time. This leaves infants more susceptible to infections, according to the Cornell University team.

"The perfect vaccine would be a single dose given at birth that generates long-lasting immunity," study author Brian Rudd, an immunologist in the College of Veterinary Medicine, said in a Cornell news release.

"No such vaccine exists because we haven't understood why infants rapidly lose immunities. Our finding could change the way we immunize infants and ultimately lead to more effective ways of enhancing immunity in early life," he explained.

The immune system produces "T-cells" to attack infection-causing germs. In adults, the immune system retains some of these T-cells in a memory pool so that they can mount a rapid response if the same germ infects the body again.

However, newborn immune systems do not form these "memory T-cells," according to the study published recently in the Journal of Immunology.

"So the immune system is forced to start the learning process over again when infected by the same [germ] later in life," Rudd said in the news release.

"We hope to find a way to make neonatal cells behave more like adult cells in how they learn from vaccines and respond to infection," he added. "Knowledge gained from these studies could be used to design more effective therapeutic interventions and vaccines that can be safely administered in early life."

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has more about the immune system.

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Posted: June 2014