Boston, MA - Children's Hospital Boston announced today that it has received a $2.4 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The grant will support the development of novel vaccines for newborns - research that is spearheaded by Ofer Levy, MD, PhD, a principal investigator in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children's.
Worldwide, more than two million newborns and infants under six months of age die from infectious diseases every year. Currently, most pediatric vaccines are given at two, four and six months of age, when the immune system is more responsive. However this schedule is often not feasible in resource-poor settings that lack out-patient clinic infrastructures, leaving many infants un- or under-vaccinated. Even in wealthier nations, newborns, particularly those born prematurely, are vulnerable to infections during the two-month window before immunizations begin.
Aside from the socio-economic challenges, another major challenge in vaccine development is the use of animal models that are costly and may not accurately predict vaccine responses in humans. Nor do responses of adult white blood cells predict those of newborns, whose immune system is distinct. With the support of this grant, Levy's team will be able to develop a new, cutting-edge in vitro platform to model human newborn immune responses to novel vaccine formulations in hopes of predicting vaccine safety and efficacy.
In conjunction with Jeffrey Hubbell, PhD, and Melody Swartz, PhD, of the École Polytechnique Fédéale de Lausanne (Lausanne, Switzerland) and Alexander Andrianov, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer, of Apogee Technology (Norwood, MA), the group will explore an innovative vaccine formulation targeting human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and will characterize its activity towards neonatal white blood cells. The goal is to develop safe and effective vaccines in newborns, requiring fewer doses to reach efficacy, thereby closing the window of infant vulnerability. Being able to vaccinate infants at birth would also have important public health benefits, as on a global basis, birth may be the only time an infant sees a healthcare provider.
"We are extremely grateful for this grant, which will greatly accelerate the development of novel approaches to test candidate pediatric vaccine formulations, leading to new safe and effective neonatal vaccines," says Levy.
Founded in 1869 as a 20-bed hospital for children, Children's Hospital Boston today is the nation's leading pediatric medical center, the largest provider of health care to Massachusetts children, and the primary pediatric teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. In addition to 397 pediatric and adolescent inpatient beds and comprehensive outpatient programs, Children's houses the world's largest research enterprise based at a pediatric medical center, where its discoveries benefit both children and adults. More than 500 scientists, including eight members of the National Academy of Sciences, eleven members of the Institute of Medicine and 13 members of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute comprise Children's research community. For more information about the hospital visit: www.childrenshospital.org/newsroom.