Breakthrough may allow newborn vaccines

Researchers at Boston Children's Hospital recently identified a new compound that activates substantially better immune responses in the white blood cells of newborns compared to anything previously tested.

The new discovery could potentially allow vaccines to be more effective in newborns from birth, MedicalXpress reports.

Currently, babies must wait two months before they can be immunized. The ability to immunize at birth is seen as a potential boon to global health. More than two million infants under six months of age are killed by infections each year.

Newborns lack most aspects of the immune response, but researchers determined that their white blood cells have one receptor, known as Toll-like receptor 8, that responds to stimulation.

"This one receptor seems to lead to more adult-like responses-immediate, short-term responses that are more appropriate for fighting infections," David Dowling, a co-first author on the study, said, according to MedicalXpress. "We're excited about the benzazepines because they are already in the clinical pipeline. That advances the potential for using them in a clinical study in human newborns, once they have been proven safe in animal studies."

VTX-294, a synthetic small-molecule compound that specifically targets TLR8, was found to produce a strong immune response in white blood cells from newborns as well as whole blood from adults, according to MedicalXpress.

"The response was not only equal to that in adults, but VTX 294 was sometimes actually more effective in newborns than adults," Ofer Levy, the study's senior investigator, said, MedicalXpress reports.