Alison Carey, M.D.
Drexel University College of Medicine
Could Probiotics Help Prevent and Treat Infant Influenza?
Death and disability from influenza (flu) infection is highest in infants younger than 6 months, an age group not currently eligible for flu vaccines. In order to study infant flu infection, we have established a model of neonatal flu infection in 3-day-old mice. We will investigate how immune-boosting microbes called probiotics help infants fight flu infection. Physicians currently have very few treatments for viral infections. Our findings will improve the knowledge of the infant immune system and lead to new therapies for respiratory viral infections. Our approach of using an immune booster instead of developing a drug for a specific virus makes the therapy more broadly applicable to infants as a whole, not just those infected with the flu.
Update: The first line of defense against influenza infection depends on the body recognizing flu through receptors on the lining of the airways. "Danger" signals are then sent which alert the body to the virus and prompt an immune system response. We have found that in neonates (children less than 4 weeks old), one of these receptors might release a strong signal that leads to excessive inflammation. When neonatal mice lacking this receptor are infected with flu, their survival improves dramatically. We believe that the probiotic helps to modulate and control these signals. Future experiments are focused on the interplay of these viral recognition receptors and probiotics.