Vaccines and Immunity (VIT)

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Scientific Strategy

The Vaccines & Immunity Theme works towards understanding of the ontogeny of immunity to inform the design of vaccines and maximise their impact and has developed its portfolio of discovery and delivery projects around this ambition. Using the core support structures and the diversity of skills of the leading investigators within the theme, we place the following questions at the centre of our work:

  • What kind of immune responses should vaccines elicit to induce maximal protection?
  • Which vaccines are safe, immunogenic and effective in the long term in resource poor settings and how are they best used within the EPI program?

Through laboratory science and clinical trials we aim to contribute to the evidence based development and delivery of vaccines.

Clinical trials of existing and novel vaccines and longitudinal observational cohort studies including entire households and mother/infant pairs serve as a platform to investigate host responses in individuals of different ages and to dissect the interactions between host and pathogen under vaccine or disease Pressures.

Maternal, Neonatal and Child Health – a cross‐cutting theme

A relatively large part of the MRCG research portfolio already addresses pressing research questions in maternal, neonatal and child health. More specifically, the DCE theme has been working on an intervention to prevent carriage of bacteria commonly causing neonatal sepsis (PregnAnZI trial) and is planning to evaluate its impact on neonatal mortality. The COSMIC trial is evaluating an intervention (systematic screening and treatment for malaria for pregnant women at village level) to reduce pregnancy malaria, increase birth weight and improve infant survival. The VI is investigating the aetiology of neonatal infections (PhD project Dr Uduak Okomo), and works on the identification of invasive pathogens and the relationship between maternal and infant pathogens using conventional and molecular tools. Both NUT and VI work on the paediatric microbiome and the impact of several factors including vaccinations and iron supplementation. The VI carries also studies on vaccines administered to pregnant women (PROPEL‐ PCV13 given to pregnant women or to new‐borns to prevent early colonisation with pneumococcus; MenAfriVac vaccine to pregnant women to prevent meningococcal disease in women and infants prior to routine immunisation above the age of 2). The ENID trial (Early Nutrition and Immune Development; ISRCTN49285450), carried out by NUT, aims at investigating the effects of pre‐natal and infancy nutritional supplementation on infant immune development and on placenta function (ENID‐Placenta) in rural Gambia. NUT also investigates on the influence of pre‐ and peri‐conceptional maternal nutrition on offspring health outcomes mediated by epigenetic changes.

In the next 5 years, the MRCG will broaden the work on maternal, neonatal and child health; several grant applications focusing on neonatal health have already been submitted. In addition, the PLT scientist, based in Dakar, will focus research aiming at reducing morbidity and mortality in neonates, including related maternal health issues. This should contribute substantially to the MRCG’s engagement in West Africa and also promote synergies between themes as the PLT scientist will provide new skills currently not available within The Unit, e.g. implementation research.