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ERC grant to find out how children fight respiratory infections

The nursery and classrooms are perhaps the most favourable places for pathogens. Yet relatively little is known about how children react to viruses and bacteria and why it is that some children are much better protected than others. Simon Jochems, a researcher at the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC), receives a European Research Council Starting Grant of €1.6 million to figure this out.

Simon Jochems

'It's quite remarkable that children have such a large share in the spread of pathogens, but that we still know little about how their immune system respond to respiratory infections,' says Simon Jochems, researcher in the Department of Parasitology. This is because research mainly focuses on adults. But also because the research methods used are not suitable for children. 'I am particularly interested in local immunity in the nose. We normally examine this, similar to a corona test, with a cotton swab in the nose. Since this is very painful for children, it is not frequently done.'

Filter paper

Filter paper advances research on children

Recently, a solution has been found for this problem. Some sort of filter paper has been developed that collects enough material within 30 seconds when put in the nose. 'It is convenient to use and not painful at all,' says Jochems. According to him, this invention takes research into the immune system of children to the next level.

The ERC grant will allow Jochems to start several projects. These studies are conducted in collaboration with pediatrician Marlies van Houten of the Spaarne Gasthuis hospital. In one study that is already ongoing, parents of healthy children collect a nasal sample every day for 4 weeks. 'This will give us a better understanding of how long it takes before the immune system takes action after an infection, but also how bacterial infections and viral infections affect each other.' By mapping all aspects of the immune system in the nose, Jochems and colleagues hope to find out why some children become ill and others do not.

Research in the classroom

In a second project, Jochems will visit primary schools. 'An important question we want to answer in this project is: how does a virus or bacteria spread in a classroom? We will visit schools three times a week to collect material from the children.' Ultimately, Jochems wants to better understand what underlies epidemiological studies, which study the spread of diseases. 'We want to have a better understanding of how children and pathogens interact. And perhaps in the future we can influence the immune system in the nose in such a way as to prevent respiratory infections.'

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