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Malaghan research collaboration: Strengthening the immune system in ageing populations

29 April 2024

UK-based New Zealand immunologist Dr Michelle Linterman recently returned home to catch up with Malaghan colleagues on a collaboration investigating how to power up the immune system as we age.

Funded by the UK Research and Innovation’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the collaboration between the Malaghan Institute and Dr Linterman’s lab at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge is investigating how the immune system changes as we age. The aim is to develop more effective vaccines that stimulate an ageing immune system to provide protection against infectious diseases. 

Specifically, Dr Linterman’s lab studies germinal centres, a unique immunological structure that forms in response to an infectious organism or a vaccine to provide robust, enduring protection against reinfection. The collaboration is using  Malaghan’s RNA vaccine technology to design vaccines that improve the germinal centre response in older individuals– and offer older immune systems the same protection as a younger, stronger immune system.

Dr Linterman says the joint research is leveraging the Malaghan Institute’s RNA platform and expertise to produce vaccines that can be tested on ageing animal models back at the Babraham Institute.

Malaghan postdoctoral researcher Dr Theresa Pankhurst who is currently at the Linterman lab as part of the Te Urungi Churchill College By-Fellowship is leading the collaboration and will test the vaccines. The vaccines will be tested in younger adult and aged mice, and then their protective capacity will be assessed after influenza virus infection by measuring if they can prevent lung disease through a method called plethysmography.

“By measuring changes in lung function before and after influenza virus infection in vaccinated mice, we can understand if the vaccine has a protective effect in the context of ageing” she says.

Dr Linterman emphasises the importance of the research in helping some of the most vulnerable populations in our communities: the elderly.  

"As we age, our immune system becomes less effective at combating infectious diseases, developing more effective vaccines can provide a way to protect the older members of our communities.”