Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

A preliminary study shows that a drug which helps immune cells self-clean may improve vaccine protection in older adults

Syringe containing vaccine © Anna Shvets from Pexels

A drug that boosts the removal of cellular debris in immune cells may increase the protective effects of vaccines in older adults, a study published today in eLife shows.

The results may lead to new approaches to protect older individuals from viruses such as the one causing the current COVID-19 pandemic and influenza.

"Older adults are at high risk of being severely affected by infectious diseases, but unfortunately most vaccines in this age group are less efficient than in younger adults," explains lead author Ghada Alsaleh, a postdoctoral researcher at the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology, University of Oxford, UK.

Previously, Alsaleh and colleagues showed that in older mice immune cells may become less efficient at removing cellular debris, a process called autophagy, and this leads to a poorer immune response in the animals. In the current study, they looked at samples from young and older people participating in clinical trials for vaccines against the respiratory syncytial virus and the hepatitis C virus to see if the same event happens in human immune cells called T cells. They found that autophagy increases in T cells from younger people after receiving vaccines, but this response is blunted in older people.

When they examined T cells from the older individuals in the laboratory, the team found that these cells have less of a natural compound called spermidine. Spermidine ramps up autophagy and boosts T-cell function. Supplementing these older immune cells with spermidine in the laboratory restored autophagy to the same levels seen in T cells from younger people. "Our work suggests that boosting autophagy during vaccination may help make vaccines more effective for older people," Alsaleh says.

A small clinical trial recently tested whether giving spermidine to older adults would improve their cognitive function. As the results were positive, and spermidine did not appear to have any harmful effects, this provides some evidence that it would be safe to test whether spermidine might also be helpful for boosting the immune response of older people to vaccines.

"Our findings will inform vaccine trials in which autophagy-boosting agents, such as spermidine, are given in a controlled environment to older participants," concludes senior author Anna Katharina Simon, Professor of Immunology at the University of Oxford. "It will be interesting to see whether these agents can enhance vaccination efficiency and help protect older people from viral infections."

Similar stories

NIHR Fellowships awarded to NDORMS researchers

Congratulations to Eileen Morrow and Mae Chester-Jones who have received NIHR Doctoral Fellowships

ORUK Early Career Research Fellowship awarded to NDORMS researcher

Congratulations to Jack Tu who has been awarded an Orthopaedic Research UK Early Career Research Fellowship to explore the cause of knee pain after total knee replacement.

OCTRU - delivering answers to important clinical questions

The Oxford Clinical Trials Research Unit (OCTRU) has received NIHR benchmarking results and offers excellent value for money according to the report

Unhelpful thoughts about fracture symptoms hinder recovery

The importance of mindsets and feelings about fracture symptoms have been shown to be a key factor in recovery of musculoskeletal conditions.

Fat tissues can play a protective role against inflammation in the intestine

A new study in The EMBO Journal has revealed how fat tissues might provide a protective role in intestinal inflammation opening new lines of research into the treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases.

NDORMS researchers awarded Sir Henry Wellcome Fellowships

Kennedy Institute researchers Mariana Borsa and Edward Jenkins have both been awarded Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellowships, which give recently qualified postdoctoral researchers the opportunity to start independent research careers.