One of the major health concerns for a newborn child is viral and bacterial infection. Prevailing medical belief holds that babies have underdeveloped immune systems and thus are simply unable to fight back. New evidence from the University of Cincinnati overturns this claim and provides insight on a better way to fight these invaders.
This study began when UC researchers found blood cells that suppress immune activity in the neonatal bloodstream, that is, the bloodstream of newly born babies. The curious bioscientists added adult white blood cells to these cells and found that they were immediately suppressed. So it appeared that the immune system of the newborn was not inherently weaker, but was rather being weakened on purpose.
Further investigation showed that babies are born with a well-developed immune system, but also with a mechanism that tones it down until the baby matures. In the words of senior investigator Sing Sing Way (pictured left, courtesy of UC): "Our findings fundamentally change how we look at neonatal susceptibility to infection by suggesting it is caused by active immune suppression during this developmental period, as opposed to the immaturity of immune cells.”
The next logical step was to determine why it would be beneficial for a baby’s immune system to begin in a compromised state. Consider the vast multitude of new viruses and bacteria that a newborn faces upon its entry into the world. Some of these bacteria are helpful and will serve necessary functions in the body. If the baby was equipped with a full-power immune system, there would be an excess of things to attack and the baby would expend all of its energy fighting off the plethora of new microbes. And then it might even destroy bacteria it needs to coexist with in the process.
(The Cincinnati Children's Hospital motivates studies like this at the University of Cincinnati. Courtesy UC)
The lesson to be learned from the study is that babies actually have a weaker immune system on purpose. Now bioresearchers can move forward to find ways to protect infants from disease without destroying the microbes that do belong in the baby. This study received funding in the form of grants from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. If funding information for the research at UC interests you, consider reading our free University of Cincinnati Funding Stats and Vendor Show Info report, accessible here:
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