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Dr Adriana Tomic

Institute: University of Oxford

Systems-level analysis of the protective immunity to influenza in children 

Influenza virus has a devastating societal impact, causing up to 650,000 deaths every year. Due to a high mutation rate, new strains appear regularly, and the question is not ‘if’ but ‘when’ there will be another pandemic.

Currently available vaccines do not always provide protection, even among otherwise-healthy people. It is estimated that one in a thousand children, despite vaccination, are hospitalized due to influenza infection every year. The exposure to previous influenza infections is associated with a decreased risk of disease to newly emerging strains. However, the mechanisms behind this protective immunity are unknown, but represent a major unmet need to prevent future pandemics.

The immune response is a coordinated action of different immune cells, each with their own specific role important for pathogen clearance, and generation of protective immunity. To identify which of myriad cell types are important in influenza immunity, we need to interrogate the immune systems in all of its complexity. Using systems immunology, an approach that combines experimental and computational methods, we can capture systems-level state of the protective immunity taking into considerations different aspects of the immune system. In this project, we will combine human challenge study - using live attenuated influenza virus as a surrogate of influenza infection in children – with new systems immunology approach – to identify important gaps in our knowledge of influenza protective immunity and identify essential pathways involved in producing an effective immune response to influenza. This will allow us to address the fundamental questionhow pre-existing immunity correlates to the outcome of influenza infection.

The results of this project have the potential to lead to novel discoveries about influenza immunity essential for the development of a new generation of influenza vaccines that are able to induce long-term immunity and prevent future pandemics.

Read more about Dr Tomic here.

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