Study says that newborns have immature immune system which makes them highly vulnerable to infections.
Now, researchers from Children's Hospital Boston claim to have found a novel way to enhance innate immunity that would help keep respiratory syncytial virus, pneumococcus and rotavirus at bay.
Lead researcher Dr. Ofer Levy revealed that newborn immune system functions differently than that of adults, but that one portion of the immune response is fully functional and can be harnessed to boost innate immunity in these tiny infants.
Toll-like receptors (TLRs) found on the surface of certain white blood cells are known to be people's first line of defense against infection.
Functioning like an early radar system, TLRs detect the presence of invading bacteria and viruses and signal other immune cells to mount a defense.
People have 10 different kinds of TLRs, however, when most of them were stimulated, newborns' immune responses are very impaired, with one important exception.
The researchers found that one TLR, known as TLR8, triggered a strong immune response in antigen-presenting cells, which are crucial for vaccine responses.
This suggests that agents that stimulate TLR8 could be used to enhance immune responses in newborns, perhaps as adjuvants given along with vaccines.
The research team is uncovering other differences in the newborn immune system that could lead to additional targets for drugs or vaccines.
"As we better understand the molecular pathways that account for newborns' susceptibility to infections, we can leverage them to enhance their immune defenses," said Levy.