• Understanding the effect of childhood obesity on vaccination responses

    2020 marked the start of 5 new paediatric research projects funded by the National Children’s Research Centre and Children’s Health Foundation, Crumlin. Dr. Andy Hogan (Maynooth University, Prinicpal Investigator), Prof. Declan Cody (UCD & CHI at Crumlin, co-PI), and Dr. Cillian DeGascun (UCD, co-PI) received funding for their project “Is childhood obesity compromising vaccine responses?”

    What research problem does this project aim to address?

    Vaccination has been the most successful advancement in modern medicine, leading to the eradication and control of numerous diseases. However, emerging evidence suggests that vaccines are less effective in obese adults. Successful vaccination depends on the generation of a robust immune responses, followed by the formation of immune memory. Our research has previously shown that obesity associates with immune dysregulation in children, and this raises the possibility that childhood obesity compromises the vaccine protection.

    What is the proposed approach to solving this problem?

    We have pilot data, which suggests that vaccinations may not be as effective in children who are obese compared to children who are lean. This is particularly concerning with the recent rise in measles and other vaccine-controlled diseases. This project aims to establish if children who are obese have less effective vaccine responses than children with a healthy bodyweight. We will fully investigate and challenge cells of the immune system from children who are obese with specific infectious agents such as measles virus and quantify their responses. We will also test if children who are obese have reduced levels of protective antibodies for MMR, Tetanus and HPV compared to lean children.

    How will this research impact on child health?

    Potentially, children who are obese are at greater risk of contracting vaccine-controlled diseases such as measles due to less than effective vaccination responses. Collectively, the proposed studies will help identify the biological defects that underpin diminished vaccination responses in children who are obese, and may highlight new therapeutic targets to help boost immunity to achieve long-term protection against childhood diseases regardless of weight.