Nav: Home

New technique reveals big data from tiny babies

March 12, 2019

The first week of a newborn's life is a time of the most rapid biological change in life as the baby adapts to living outside the womb, suddenly exposed to new challenges including bacteria and viruses. Yet surprisingly little is known about these early changes.

An international research team co-led by the University of British Columbia has pioneered a technique to get huge amounts of data from a tiny amount of newborn blood--less than a quarter teaspoon--allowing for the most comprehensive data analysis yet.

The technique, described in new research published today in Nature Communications, reveals molecular changes in the first week of newborn life, including what genes are turned on, what proteins are being made and how metabolism changes. The findings establish a common developmental pathway for the first week of a newborn's life, providing a baseline to further our understanding of newborn health and, in particular, the impact of vaccines.

"It's quite amazing," said Amy Lee, co-lead author of the study and research associate at UBC. "We were able to capture a tremendous amount of information about newborns in that first week of their development, all from less than a quarter of a teaspoon of blood."

Tiny sample, big knowledge

Previous efforts to gather data on newborn development have been limited by the challenge of obtaining a large enough blood sample from a tiny newborn.

The team overcame this challenge by developing methods that minimize the amount of blood needed, followed by analyzing the complex data using sophisticated software.

"We found thousands of changes over the first week of life, including changes in gene expression and components of immune defense such as interferons, neutrophil function and complement pathways," said Casey Shannon, co-lead author and a computational biologist at the PROOF Centre in Vancouver.

"Contrary to the relatively steady biology we see in healthy adults, we found that the first week of human life for newborns is highly dynamic," said Robert Hancock, one of the study's senior authors and the Canada Research Chair in Health and Genomics at UBC. "Through advanced computational analyses of diverse data from this tiny sample of blood, we discovered dramatic biological changes in newborns, but these molecular changes also follow a common and highly interconnected developmental pattern."

An inter-continental effort

The researchers piloted their technique with a group of infants from The Gambia in West Africa after first obtaining permission from village elders and informed consent from mothers in local languages. They then validated their approach with a second group of Australasian newborns.

They found that the two independent infant groups showed a common, highly dynamic developmental trajectory--suggesting that the molecular changes do not occur at random, but instead follow an age-specific pathway.

"This common trajectory is exciting as it allows us to ask bigger questions about the differences between different populations and the impact of biomedical interventions such as vaccines on development," said Dr. Ofer Levy, one of the study's senior authors and director of the Precision Vaccines Program at Boston Children's Hospital.

Optimizing vaccines in early life

The study establishes a baseline for health and disease in early life that can help measure responses to key medical interventions and the impact of factors such as diet, disease and maternal health.

The researchers are especially interested in studying the impact of immunization. Newborns' responses to immunization are distinct from those of older individuals, and much needs to be learned to optimize the use and benefit of vaccines in early life.

"These findings will guide us to develop better infant vaccines in the future," said Dr. Tobias Kollmann, one of the study's senior authors, professor in the UBC faculty of medicine and an investigator and pediatric infectious disease consultant at BC Children's Hospital. "Newborns are especially susceptible to infection early in life, and at most risk of serious complications during that critical first week of life."

The researchers say this study would not have been possible without international collaboration amongst experts in their respective fields.
Those involved included scientists from UBC, the BC Cancer Agency, BC Children's Hospital, the Centre for Heart Lung Innovation (HLI) at St. Paul's Hospital, and the PROOF Centre of Excellence. The study also involved researchers at Boston Children's Hospital, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and the Medical Research Council Unit - The Gambia, the Papua New Guinea Institute of Medical Research, the University of Melbourne and the University of Western Australia as well as Telethon Kids Institute in Perth, Australia.

The Expanded Program on Immunization Consortium (EPIC) contributed collectively to this study. EPIC is an association of academic centers around the world partnering to conduct systems biology studies in newborns and infants.

The study was supported in part by the NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases as part of the Human Immunology Project Consortium and by the Precision Vaccines Program.

University of British Columbia

Related Vaccines Articles:

Understanding T cell activation could lead to new vaccines
Scientists could be one step closer to developing vaccines against viruses such as Zika, West Nile or HIV, according to Penn State College of Medicine researchers.
Vaccines do work for pandemic flu, says study
Vaccines are successful in preventing pandemic flu and reducing the number of patients hospitalized as a result of the illness, a study led by academics at the University of Nottingham has found.
Research could lead to better vaccines and new antivirals
Scientists at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) have identified a new regulator of the innate immune response -- the immediate, natural immune response to foreign invaders.
Toward opioid vaccines that can help prevent overdose fatalities
In 2014, the number of deaths from opioid overdoses in the US jumped to its highest level on record.
New, more effective strategy for producing flu vaccines
A team of researchers led by Yoshihiro Kawaoka, professor of pathobiological sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, has developed technology that could improve the production of vaccines that protect people from influenza B.
A method for storing vaccines at room temperature
Several simple and inexpensive techniques make it possible to store antiviral-vaccines at room temperature for several months.
Engineers design programmable RNA vaccines
MIT engineers have designed programmable RNA vaccines that could be rapidly manufactured and deployed.
Zika vaccines protect mice from infection
A single dose of either of two experimental Zika vaccines fully protected mice challenged with Zika virus four or eight weeks after receiving the inoculations.
Can we hypercharge vaccines?
Researchers at Boston Children's Hospital report that a fatty chemical naturally found in damaged tissues can induce an unexpected kind of immune response, causing immune cells to go into a 'hyperactive' state that is highly effective at rallying infection-fighting T-cells.
Vaccines: Don't leave home without them
While Americans should be fully vaccinated before travelling internationally to avoid infection with highly contagious diseases such as measles and hepatitis A, many are not, suggest two studies being presented at IDWeek 2015™.

Related Vaccines Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#SB2 2019 Science Birthday Minisode: Mary Golda Ross
Our second annual Science Birthday is here, and this year we celebrate the wonderful Mary Golda Ross, born 9 August 1908. She died in 2008 at age 99, but left a lasting mark on the science of rocketry and space exploration as an early woman in engineering, and one of the first Native Americans in engineering. Join Rachelle and Bethany for this very special birthday minisode celebrating Mary and her achievements. Thanks to our Patreons who make this show possible! Read more about Mary G. Ross: Interview with Mary Ross on Lash Publications International, by Laurel Sheppard Meet Mary Golda...