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Boost to make Vaccinations more Powerful

British scientists have identified a compound which gives a real boost to the immune system of older people.

The researchers say that a new drug based on this compound could give a 90 year old patient the immune system of a 20 year old.

The research focuses on a naturally occurring chemical compound called spermidine. Tests in mice have shown that this compound restores the immune system’s inbuilt memory, enabling it to mount a far more powerful protective response following vaccination.

This means that it could make vaccines more effective in older people, a group that is known not to react as well to vaccines as younger age groups.

The study was undertaken at Oxford University and led by Professor Katja Simon who said the reasons for a decline in immunity in older people are complex, but a key factor is that the white blood cells that coordinate the response to an infection lose the ability to form a memory. Therefore, when older people encounter a virus, even if it is one they have had before or have been vaccinated against, they are unable to mount a strong immune response and can develop a serious, or even fatal, infection.

One of the exciting aspects of the findings is the promise to give older people a more powerful protective response to a flu vaccination. Flu kiils about 5,000 people in England every year, the majority being older. The new development could significantly boost the power of the flu jab and greatly reduce the dangers of common viruses in older age groups.
Daniel Puleston, from the MRC Human Immunology Unit at Oxford University who was involved in the study, said:

“We already know that the over 65s have a problem forming an immune memory and as a consequence infection causes proportionally more deaths in this age group. We’ve now identified a key process involved in this memory formation, and by enhancing this process in aged mice we’ve been able to boost their immune response to vaccination.
“The effect was so powerful and was the equivalent of a 90 year old responding to a vaccine better than a 20 year old, which makes this a very exciting pathway to target as a potential way of boosting vaccine protection in the elderly.”

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