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Towards strengthening memory immunity in the ageing population

Investigating the immunological fitness of middle-aged adults
PhD ceremony:Ms M. (Marieke) van der Heiden
When:January 10, 2018
Supervisor:prof. dr. A.M.H. (AnneMieke) Boots
Co-supervisors:dr. A. Buisman, dr. G. Berbers
Where:Academy building RUG
Faculty:Medical Sciences / UMCG
Towards strengthening memory immunity in the ageing population

Novel vaccination strategies to protect the elderly against infectious diseases

The world population is rapidly ageing. Worldwide predictions indicate that the number of persons above the age of 60 will be doubled by the year 2060. This rapid ageing results in increased numbers of persons susceptible to disease and disability. Prevention of infectious diseases, by effective vaccination, is of high importance to establish healthy ageing. Unfortunately, vaccines often induce suboptimal responses in the elderly, due to ageing of the immune system. Currently, it is unclear at what age the turning point, from a well-functioning immune system to a weakened immune system, occurs. Accordingly, markers are needed to predict the approaching vulnerability of the immune system. These markers could then be used to vaccinate older adults in a timely manner and to induce long-term protection. This concept was investigated by vaccination of middle-aged adults (50-65 years of age) and subsequent description of the characteristics of the pre- and post- vaccination immune response. Marieke describes in her thesis that middle-aged adults, despite the first signs of immunological ageing, show effective responses to a vaccination which they receive for the first time. She predicts that a vaccination in this age group induces protection that could last until high age. Eventually, she shows that the strength of the vaccination response might be predicted by characteristics of the immune system, using so called biomarkers. Future research will determine whether the predicted protection up until high age is actually achieved. The research described in this thesis takes the first steps towards a future vaccination program adapted to the rapidly ageing population.

Marieke will defend her thesis on the 10th of January 2018 in Groningen.