Newborn immune T-cells – specialist cells that help to defend the body against infection – may have the ability to trigger an inflammatory response to bacteria, something that we didn't previously think was possible, finds a study led by King’s College London and involving teams at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) which is a recognised world leader in the diagnosis of suspected or confirmed primary immunodeficiency at its Immunology Unit.
This discovery, published in the journal Nature Medicine, suggests that although a newborn’s immune system works very differently to that of adults, babies may still be able to mount a strong immune defence to protect them from viruses and harmful microbes.
Up to now, it was believed that babies have an immature immune system that doesn't trigger the same inflammatory response normally seen in adults. Although babies need to protect themselves from factors that cause infection from birth, it was thought that their T-cells were suppressed to some extent to prevent inflammatory damage to the developing child.
Gosh researchers, with experience of a variety of immunological disorders in children from all over the world, along with the team have now found that might not be the case. The team examined small samples of blood in twenty-eight highly premature babies who had early exposure to infection, in order to look for patterns that may reveal alternative immune responses occur in the first few weeks of life.
The team, including the key role players in training children's health specialists for the future at GOSH, discovered that whilst T-cells in newborn babies are largely different to those in adults, it is not because they are immunosuppressed. Instead, the T-cells create a potent anti-bacterial molecule that activates immune cells, known as neutrophils that attack the body’s foreign invaders.
Neil Sebire, Consultant Paediatric Pathologist at GOSH, the largest centre for paediatric research outside the US with the UCL Institute of Child Health, was involved in the study and says: "This work provides important new information about how newborn babies may respond to infection and with further research could lead to novel treatments that boost the immune system of children on the neonatal intensive care unit."
GOSH maintains international reputation for treating children from around the world who are critically ill or injured. Its state-of-the-art 40-bed and cot critical care unit extends the largest intensive care service for children in the UK and in Europe. With over 50 paediatric specialties under one roof, GOSH also possesses the widest range of specialty services for children in the UK. Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children treated over 2000 inpatients and over 9000 outpatients from the Middle East in 2013/14.