Observing the immune system during its development
Löwen-KIDS study started
The human immune system does not work optimally immediately after birth. Rather, it learns with time to recognise pathogens and to fight them successfully. The details of how the immune system develops and protects the human body depends on a variety of factors. Scientists of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in Braunschweig aim to investigate these factors by means of a long-term study. For this purpose, between 500 and 1,000 children will be accompanied next year in the scope of the LöwenKIDS study.
The process of germs, such as, e.g., Viruses and bacteria, invading the body and proliferating in it is called Infection. But not all invaders make us ill automatically because they first need to overcome the immune system, which is the defence of our body. Usually, the immune system can differentiate pretty well between more and less harmful pathogens and can respond according to the type of invader and fight the invader according to need. But our immune system does not have this capability from the time of birth, but needs to learn it step by step. This is one of the reasons why children become ill more often than adults.
"We want to find out which impact infections have on the further development of the child and its immune system and on diseases later on, such as, for example, asthma or allergies," says Dr Evelyn Dorendorf, who is the coordinator of the study that commenced at the end of February.
For this purpose, the researchers from the research group, "Epidemiological and Statistical Methods", aim to accompany children from the time of birth and record their diseases during the early years of their life. "To this end, the parents are to keep a symptoms diary and submit a nasal swab or a stool sample to us once a year and every time the child becomes sick," says Prof Rafael Mikolajczyk, who is the director of both the study and the research group. "In addition, there will be a more intensively studied group, in which nasal swabs and stool samples will be collected once every quarter. Ideally, we would like to test the kids all the way to primary-school age or even longer."
The scientists conducted two pilot studies before commencing the study. One of these tested the willingness to partake of soon-to-be parents from Braunschweig and nearby, whereas the other study tested the diary and the collection of samples. "The preliminary studies went very well and we would like to express our gratitude to all participants and all supporters," says Mikolajczyk. "Since we want to recruit a significantly larger number of participants for the main study which just commenced, we again need the help of midwives, paediatricians and gynaecologists, clinics and nurseries. We are are already thanking all people involved."
The researchers are looking for recruit pregnant women in the third trimester and parents of children up to three months of age who live in or near Braunschweig, Wolfenbüttel, Wolfsburg and Hannover. Anybody interested in participating can register by phone (0531 6181 2222) or use the contact form on the website loewenkids.helmholtz-hzi.de. This is also the place to turn to to obtain further information on the study and an overview of the results of the preliminary studies.