Research to look at immune system’s seasonal ability to fight a virus

Research to look at immune system’s seasonal ability to fight a virus
© iStock/MartinPrescott

Groundbreaking new research will be investigating the immune system’s ability to fight viruses as the seasons change.

The research will investigate if an immune system response to a virus or infectious disease, such as COVID-19, is altered by different seasons.

Findings that come from this research are going to be crucial in helping to identify the best time of year to administer vaccines, and whether vaccines should be administered at certain times of the day to increase their effectiveness.

The research will be carried out at the University of Surrey in collaboration with Columbia University.

The immune system and the seasons

To investigate the matter, researchers took blood, stool and urine samples during summer and winter solstice, as well as in the spring and autumn equinoxes. Volunteers who took part in the research stayed at the Clinical Research Centre at the University of Surrey for three days in temperature and light controlled rooms. This allowed the researchers to analyse the participants immune systems and circadian rhythms to see if they change from season to season.

The research is still ongoing however, initial findings show that a subset of white blood cells that play a key role in the immune system are elevated at a certain time of day. For example, B cells that produce antibodies were found to be elevated at night.

The impact of seasons on these blood cell rhythms is still under investigation.

Seasonal infections

So far, three of the four human coronaviruses that have been identified, are affected by the wintertime, and understanding how our body responds to infectious diseases throughout the seasons will help to better equip us for dealing with them.

Principal Investigator Micaela Martinez, Assistant Professor of Environmental Health Science at Columbia University, said: “Knowing the vulnerabilities of our body to diseases and viruses across the year could enhance disease surveillance and inform the timing of vaccination campaigns that will help us eradicate such infections.”

Findings from the study are expected to be published in 2020-2021.

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