Aisha, a migrant from Guinea, plays with her daughter in a park in the Tunisian town of Medenine – Copyright AFP/File GIANLUIGI GUERCIA
The first months and years of life are of great importance for the development of the human immune system. During this time, the immune system can define what diseases people can develop later in life.
A new project has been formed to further explore this area. The project is ‘INITIALIZE‘ (to represent ‘Inflammation in early human life: specific health impacts throughout life’), a joint research project of ten universities. The objective is to study which environmental factors and mechanisms modify the human immune system in the first years of life.
The project will also consider whether specific interventions could have a positive impact. Essentially, this will explore whether the immune system can be modified so that the risks of different diseases are lowered. The project has received seven million euros of funding from Horizon Europe.
the Researchers are also interested in the mother’s diet, exposure to chemicals and stress during pregnancy. The intricate interplay of environmental and genetic factors and their impact on immune cell development is still poorly understood.
The development of the human immune system progresses as the child is exposed to numerous bacteria, viruses, and other environmental factors. Scientists see that exposure is important for the development of the immune system. However, this stage of development is not without its risks.
According to the principal investigator, Professor Matej Orešič from the University of Turku: “The first months and years are a very delicate and vulnerable time. We already know that the development of the human immune system in the first years of life is related to the risks of several diseases later on, in particular allergies, asthma and autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes.
The Finland-based researcher adds: “However, the mechanisms of immune imprinting in the first years of life are still not well understood.”
The researchers will also study how the chemicals affect the immune system. Here, a small exposure to chemicals can have significant consequences.
The project will last six years and will consist of eight longitudinal, prospective birth cohort studies, in which researchers follow groups of children over a long period of time to observe the development of immune-mediated diseases.
The research will culminate in a clinical trial designed to target the gut microbiome in at-risk children.