Susceptibility to infection: What part does the immune system play?
Newborn babies and the elderly are particularly susceptible to bacterial and viral infection. But why is this? How can we predict who will contract an infection – and how can they be optimally treated? To find answers to these questions, the RESIST team is also conducting research on the immune system in these vulnerable groups.
The focus of research involving newborns is on the interaction with the microbiome (the entirety of the microorganisms that colonize the body) as it develops with the child. Why? These microorganisms ‘train’ the immune system and could potentially be used to promote immune maturation after birth so as to prevent severe infections that can result from bacteria and from life-threatening viral diseases.
Interaction between the immune system and the microbiome is also being studied in relation to another medical condition affecting adults. This is spondyloarthrosis, a class of rheumatic diseases that manifest as inflammation of the musculoskeletal system, and whose onset is triggered by an infection.
RESIST will investigate the influence the gut microbiome has on whether the patient recovers from this condition or whether it becomes chronic.
In elderly people, the RESIST team will look at factors such as their vulnerability to flu viruses or the chicken pox virus, which causes shingles. Another research focus in RESIST, where older people are involved, is vaccination. It is still not clear why vaccination of elderly individuals is often not as effective or completely useless. The development of new vaccines and innovative therapies are of interest in several RESIST projects dealing with hepatitis.