Protecting vulnerable children from infection | Action Medical Research

Touching Lives - April 2015

Protecting vulnerable children from infection

Children with HIV, children with some blood cancers who need a stem cell transplant, and children with severe immunodeficiencies can be especially vulnerable to infection.

A healthy immune system can recognise and destroy many different viruses, bacteria and parasites. Cells called T cells play a central role in this process. We need millions of T cells, and many different sorts, because cells that recognise one sort of virus, such as Chickenpox, do not necessarily recognise another one, such as measles.

Children with weakened immune systems have greatly reduced numbers of T cells. Successful treatment can return numbers to normal levels, but it is unclear what sort of treatment is best at restoring all the different types of T cells that are needed. Without this, children remain vulnerable to infectious diseases.

Professor Robin Callard, of University College London’s Institute of Child Health is leading a two-year study funded by Action into how different treatments may increase both numbers and diversity of these vital cells.

“Our findings could enable doctors to identify the best possible treatment for each child,” Professor Callard explains. “They may reveal, for example, how old children with HIV should be when starting antiviral treatment, the most appropriate drugs to use, and whether it helps to take a break from treatment. The ultimate aim is to optimise the long-term health of the immune system, giving children protection from infectious diseases throughout their lives.”

This project is supported by a generous donation from The Henry Smith Charity.

Help us spread the word