New research on changes in babies during their first week of life is paving the way for targeted vaccines and fewer shots as they grow up.
The new study, published Tuesday in Nature Communications, describes a method of checking the blood of newborns to reveal detailed information about their immune systems. The research team includes Professor Ofer Levy, who heads the Precision Vaccines Program at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
“There are a lot of questions now and if we can begin answering them with this information to build immunizations that are even more effective, immunizations might require only one injection and not three or four injections,” Levy told Israel’s Channel 13.
The ongoing research, involving 700 babies from different countries, will investigate how to match the vaccines to specific populations and to every baby.
“These technologies may be able in the future to change the face of medicine and it is really pleasing to see them reach such a point and be published,” Levy said.
The new technique obtains “vast quantities of data from a tiny amount of newborn blood, creating the most detailed account to date of molecular changes in the first week of life,” Harvard University said in a press release.
One of the goals of the Precision Vaccines Program is to help in the development of vaccines tailored for distinct populations based on age- and sex-specific features of immune responses.
Partnering with labs in England and Canada, Levy’s team analyzed blood samples taken on days one, three and seven after birth and compared them to the babies’ baseline condition on their day of birth to see how their immune system develops in their first days outside the womb.
“That’s when we discovered dramatic molecular changes driven by development,” Levy said.
“Two-thirds of all deaths in early life are due to infection,” Levy’s laboratory website stated. “The risk to die from infection is a function of age, the younger you are the higher the risk.”
The research shows that in the future it might be possible to determine what specific infections each child will be susceptible to and treat them in advance with targeted vaccines.