Study Shows Drug May Boost Vaccine Protection in Older Adults

Administering Vaccine

A preliminary study shows that a drug, which helps immune cells self-clean, may improve vaccine protection in older adults.

A drug that boosts the removal of cellular debris in immune cells may increase the protective effects of vaccines in older adults, a study published today (December 15, 2020) in eLife shows.

The results may lead to new approaches to protect older individuals from viruses such as the one causing the current COVID-19 pandemic and influenza.

“Older adults are at high risk of being severely affected by infectious diseases, but unfortunately most vaccines in this age group are less efficient than in younger adults,” explains lead author Ghada Alsaleh, a postdoctoral researcher at the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology, University of Oxford, UK.

Previously, Alsaleh and colleagues showed that in older mice immune cells may become less efficient at removing cellular debris, a process called autophagy, and this leads to a poorer immune response in the animals. In the current study, they looked at samples from young and older people participating in clinical trials for vaccines against the respiratory syncytial virus and the hepatitis C virus to see if the same event happens in human immune cells called T cells. They found that autophagy increases in T cells from younger people after receiving vaccines, but this response is blunted in older people.

When they examined T cells from the older individuals in the laboratory, the team found that these cells have less of a natural compound called spermidine. Spermidine ramps up autophagy and boosts T-cell function. Supplementing these older immune cells with spermidine in the laboratory restored autophagy to the same levels seen in T cells from younger people. “Our work suggests that boosting autophagy during vaccination may help make vaccines more effective for older people,” Alsaleh says.

A small clinical trial recently tested whether giving spermidine to older adults would improve their cognitive function. As the results were positive, and spermidine did not appear to have any harmful effects, this provides some evidence that it would be safe to test whether spermidine might also be helpful for boosting the immune response of older people to vaccines.

“Our findings will inform vaccine trials in which autophagy-boosting agents, such as spermidine, are given in a controlled environment to older participants,” concludes senior author Anna Katharina Simon, Professor of Immunology at the University of Oxford. “It will be interesting to see whether these agents can enhance vaccination efficiency and help protect older people from viral infections.”

Reference: “Autophagy in T cells from aged donors is maintained by spermidine, and correlates with function and vaccine responses” by Ghada Alsaleh, Isabel Panse, Leo Swadling, Hanlin Zhang, Felix Richter, Alain Meyer, Janet Lord, Eleanor Barnes, Paul Klenerman, Christopher Green and Anna Katharina Simon, 15 December 2020, eLife.
DOI: 10.7554/eLife.57950

1 Comment on "Study Shows Drug May Boost Vaccine Protection in Older Adults"

  1. Wonderful! Every advantage in the war against germs is sincerely appreciated by those of us who have been involved in the fight against microbes for many years. I’m retired now but I remember the bitter war we fought when the HIV virus struck. I had been stabbed by a patient and received a huge blood exposure from him and he tested positive for everything bad of that era. We knew that there was a new and deadly disease on the horizon that centered in California. We talked about it, some thought I should have the gamma globulin injections some said no as the medicine comes primarily from California. One wise old Doctor said we know she has been exposed to some nasty bugs, I say take the GG. I did. And we all held our breath for a month. I did not get a bad batch so I did not get the HIV exposure. But I sure remember the fight in the medical community to treat the new disease. The same way they are currently engaged in it, deadly serious doctors and nurses and many others vs the elusive microbes and a treatment that works, a vaccine that is to prevent it and then the wind up to the next misery on the horizon.

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