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Professor Beate Kampmann

Institute: The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Comparing pertussis vaccine-induced mucosal immunity in Gambian infants with mucosal immune responses in the pertussis human challenge model as a tool to enhance understanding of protective immunity to pertussis

Whooping cough, known as pertussis, is a serious infection, especially in babies. Globally, there are around 16 million pertussis cases and 195,000 deaths in children per year, making it one of the leading causes of vaccine-preventable infant deaths.

There are two types of pertussis vaccine: the older one called ‘whole-cell’ (wP), and a newer version with fewer side effects called ‘acellular’ (aP). Most infants are now given the aP vaccine, but there are concerns that it may not be as protective against whooping cough.

DPT vaccine
The combined diphtheria pertussis tetanus vaccine

Results from research involving animals show that immunisation with wP vaccine prevents pertussis establishing an infection in the nose, and the immune cells kill the bacteria before any symptoms develop or transmission to others can occur. This rapid onslaught in the nose doesn’t happen following the aP vaccine.

However, we need more detailed information about the type of immune reaction triggered in the nose by the two different vaccines, and to find out if people respond in the same way as mice.

A human infection challenge study where volunteers are exposed to pertussis has recently been set up at the University of Southampton by Professor Robert Read. In this study, some of the volunteers became infected and others did not, and samples were collected from both. We also have a large number of samples gently collected from the noses of infants immunised with the two different vaccines in the Gambia.

In this project, Dr Anja Saso in the team will have a unique opportunity to analyse and compare the immune reaction in the noses of children given the two types of vaccine and adults exposed to the natural pertussis bacteria. Understanding the underpinning immune response to pertussis and pertussis vaccines will help develop better vaccines in the future.  

This research is part of a larger multinational network, PERISCOPE.

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