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Researcher | Research Overview

Simon van Haren’s research is focused on better understanding the molecular basis of age-specific immune responses to vaccines. Understanding how the human immune system changes with age in how it responds to vaccination can ultimately inform the development of novel vaccines to provide early life protection against pathogens such as Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV).

  • A major area of his research is to dissect the molecular mechanism of adjuvant synergy. Adjuvants are key vaccine components capable of instructing different types of immune responses. Supported by an Early Career Award from the Thrasher Research Fund, he completed a project that aims to identify combinations of Toll-like receptor (TLR) and C-type lectin receptor (CLR) agonists that could overcome the classical impairment in CD4+ T cell-polarization seen in newborns. This study has identified novel age-dependent synergy between specific TLR and CLR adjuvant combinations, which are currently under evaluation for their ability to enhance early life immunity against RSV.
  • The second major area of Dr. van Haren’s research is the study of antigen presentation and the effect of vaccine adjuvants on this process. Dr. van Haren has developed a portfolio of mass-spectrometry techniques and cell culture platforms that can be used to study the ability of vaccine adjuvants, or combinations, to enhance the presentation of vaccine antigens on MHC class II or to induce antigen cross-presentation on MHC class I. The ability to induce cross-presentation and subsequently induce a CD8+ T cell response is key for developing immunity against intracellular pathogens such as RSV or Influenza.

Dr. van Haren has modeled the immune systems of newborns, 6-month old infants, adults, and elderly individuals in different in vitro settings, such as whole blood, monocytes, monocyte-derived DCs, B-and T-cells and a microphysiological tissue construct. Using state-of-the-art mass-spectrometry and cell biology techniques he aims to unravel the ontogeny of the human immune response to vaccines at the molecular level, with the goal to provide novel insights relevant to future vaccine development.

Researcher | Research Background

Simon van Haren obtained his Ph.D at Utrecht University in The Netherlands, where he conducted immunological and biochemical research studying the formation of Factor VIII-neutralizing antibodies in patients with hemophilia A. His research project was focused on the mechanism of endocytosis of Factor VIII by human dendritic cells, the presentation of antigenic peptides on MHC class II and the identification of antigen-specific CD4+ T cells.

He undertook postdoctoral training in the lab of Dr. Ofer Levy in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Researcher | Publications