Understanding the powerful and complex effects of vaccinations in infants

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Synopsis:Infant vaccination has been shown to have effects on infections other than that targeted by the vaccine, with some live vaccines – such as measles and BCG – decreasing overall mortality, and some inactivated vaccines being associated with increased deaths in some populations.  These have been termed ‘non-specific’ or ‘heterologous effects’ of vaccination, to which female infants are generally more susceptible. This talk will describe the results from several randomised trials conducted in The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau in West Africa specifically designed to investigate the immunological mechanisms behind heterologous effects of vaccination, and to understand their sex–differential nature. The studies take a ‘systems biology’ approach by combining transcriptional profiling with basic cellular immunology including multiplex cytokine assays and multiparamater flow cytometry. This research occurs at a critical time when WHO is reviewing the complex effects of vaccination and how this new information can improve the health of children.

Speaker: Dr Katie Flanagan is an Adjunct Senior Lecturer in the Department of Immunology at Monash University and Head of Infectious Diseases at Launceston General Hospital in Tasmania. She trained in medicine at the Universities of Oxford and London, UK; and did a PhD in malaria immunology based at Oxford University with field studies in The Gambia and Kenya (1997 – 2000). She was Head of Infant Immunology Research at the MRC Laboratories in The Gambia from 2005-11 where she conducted multiple immunological studies in neonates and infants. She is now working with Professor Nigel Curtis at The University of Melbourne and Professor Magdalena Plebanski at Monash University. Her research aims to understand how the infant immune system develops in response to vaccines and infections encountered in early life.

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