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Immune Ontogeny and Viral Infections

Immaturity of the immune system in children is considered a major factor contributing to their increased susceptibility to viral infections and worse disease outcome compared to adults. In the laboratory, the group is investigating the mechanisms underlying the increased susceptibility to infection in children and the pathogenesis of viral infections (HIV and adenoviruses) in this patient group. Prenatal problems such as maternal HIV infection can further exacerbate immunodeficiency in young children. In collaboration with scientists in Africa, we are investigating the underlying mechanisms. The goal is to identify therapeutic approaches that can restore immune metabolic homeostasis in children born to HIV1-infected mothers.

Our studies on human immune development have also identified an important role for immune cells in mediating tissue development. Recently, we demonstrated that CD4+ T cells in children regulate tissue development, whereas dysregulated immune responses in preterm infants contribute to tissue inflammation. The mechanisms mediating communication between immune cells and tissue cells in infectious and inflammatory diseases in children are unknown. Therefore, we have developed in vitro organoid immune cell models. These novel in vitro models map tissue in 3D and allow, for the first time, the study of interactions between human tissue and immune cells. The use of primary cells from specific patient groups also allow us to study the role of innate lymphocytes and CD4 + T cells in infectious and inflammatory diseases of organs.