If you are a parent, then you know that you can take care of your new born to eternity, but still they are susceptible to infection and prone to sickness all the time. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 2 million newborns and infants less than 6 months of age die each year due to infection. This is due to the fact that new born are known to have immature immune system, which is poor in defending their body against bacterial or viral attacks. Researchers at Children’s Hospital Boston bring a new hope by developing a method to enhance immunity in new born (called as neo-natal immune response) that would protect them from viral and bacterial infection. I would like to walk you through, in brief; firstly, how does our body respond to infection and secondly, how these scientists exploited this mechanism to improve neonatal immune response in new born child.
How does adult body defend itself from infection caused by bacteria or virus?
Human body has a defense systems build in to fight against various types of infections or so called foreign body attacks. When, bacteria or viruses (foreign body) break physical barriers like skin and enter into our blood stream, then our immune system react in two ways 1. recognize that foreign body has entered and 2. respond to the foreign body to fight against it
White Blood Cells (WBC), also know as leukocytes, are present in blood and are responsible for fighting against infection and foreign bodies. Surface of the white blood cells have “Toll-like receptors (TLRs)”, which are able to distinguish different types of foreign bodies that can cause infection. Although, biologically, TLR mechanism is complicated, but in simple terms, TLRs can be imagined as antenna that have capability to catch different frequencies and enable us to watch different channels on TV or listen to programs on Radio.
After recognition of foreign body by TLRs, TLRs send signals to various cells and genes and initiate an inflammatory response. As a result, components from blood like immune cells are recruited to fight against the infection.
It is interesting to know that there are many types of TLR’s, primarily 10, that are able to trigger response against various types of foreign body. If you are interested you can read the Wikipedia article about different type of TLR’s and the cell types.
I hope that you were able to get...
an idea of defense mechanism of human body against infection. If you want to take a deep dive into this subject, either download or read online: Immunity and early defense against infection.
How does functioning of TLR differ in adult as compared to new born?
Lead Researcher, Dr Ofer Levy, Children’s Hospital Boston revealed that newborn immune system functions differently than that of adults. We know now that people have different kinds of TLRs, but, in new born’s most of these TRLS and dormant except for TLR8 and therefore, do not respond against infection if stimulated.
How can TLR help new born in increasing its immunity?
Researchers found that one TLR, known as TLR8, triggered a strong immune response, which are crucial for responses.
This is a key finding because research indicates that TLR8 can be used to enhance immunity in new born. How? Agents that have capability to stimulate TLR8 can be added in vaccines for children and hence enhancing their ability to respond to infection. TLR8 is the end of the research; the team is looking harder to find other differences in the newborn immune system that could potentially help to develop drugs or vaccine.
Fundamental understanding of the difference between new born and adult immune system should produce more ways to stimulate immunity of new born. As quoted by Dr. Levy “As we better understand the molecular pathways that account for newborns’ susceptibility to infections, we can leverage them to enhance their immune defenses”. I am sure as a parent you look forward to benefit from the research and are able to spend more time with your new one at home as compared to the hospitals.