Manipulating the trajectory of the human fetal, newborn & infant immune system

Millions of newborns and infants die each year from infectious diseases. Many of these deaths are preventable, and analysis of the immune development of children can help define paths for medical intervention that may save lives.

Dr. Tobias Kollmann’s research team is conducting the first global comparison of immune development in cohorts of children from different countries. This project will compare the immune development of children born in Vancouver to those born in South Africa, Mozambique, Ecuador and Belgium. Preliminary research has found striking qualitative and quantitative differences in children’s immune development that appear to be directly related to their genetic make-up as well as the particular environment to which they are exposed. Kollmann’s team is dissecting the cause-effect relationship for the role of host genetics and studying the environmental factors that direct the developmental path of the innate and adaptive immune responses. Analysis of these genetic and environmental factors will potentially reveal pathways that direct future efforts to treat and prevent infectious diseases.

Kollmann’s team is already developing a platform that will help deliver targeted vaccinations to protect newborns. Using genetically altered strains of Listeria monocytogenes, the vaccine will induce a desired immune response only in specific cells and then disappear without harming the child. Preliminary data suggest this goal is within reach, and Kollmann’s team is working in partnership with industry to design and test a Listeria-based vaccination for newborns. Through this work, safe yet effective methods will be identified to prevent millions of newborn and infant deaths due to infectious diseases.