Umbilical cord blood test could reveal how susceptible your baby will be to colds



15:41 GMT, 18 May 2012

Babies were more likely to suffer from viruses if they produced low levels of a specific immune boosting protein

Babies were more likely to suffer from viruses if they produced low levels of a specific immune boosting protein

Doctors have created a test that detects how strong a baby's immune system is at birth – and how likely they are to fall prey to colds in their first year.

A team from Washington University School of Medicine developed a technique that identifies which babies have a diminished immune response to viruses from a sample of their umbilical cord blood.

They found these babies were more likely to go on and suffer respiratory infections in their first year.

'Viral respiratory infections are common during childhood,' said lead author Dr Kaharu Sumino.

'Usually they are mild, but there's a wide range of responses – from regular cold symptoms to severe lung infections and even, in rare instances, death.

'We wanted to look at whether the innate immune response – the response to viruses that you're born with – has any effect on the risk of getting respiratory infections during the baby's first year.'

The team used blood samples taken from 82 babies in the delivery room to measure for a specific immune system response to viral infections known as interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma).

The researchers isolated a type of white blood cell, from the babies' cord blood and infected these cells with a common respiratory virus. They then measured the amount of IFN-gamma protein the body produced in response to help fight the virus.

The parents of babies who produced high levels of IFN-gamma reported they had fewer colds over the year. Meanwhile the babies who produced low levels suffered more frequent colds. They were also more likely to experience ear and sinus infections, pneumonia and hospitalisations due to respiratory illness.

This latest study along with previous research in mice and human cells, supports the idea that finding a way to boost the body's innate immunity via the IFN-gamma signaling system could help babies to fight a broad range of viruses.

Dr Sumino said: 'We're not there yet – measuring IFN-gamma levels is complex. But in the future, if we can develop a relatively easy way to find out if someone has a deficiency in this system, we would like to be able to give a drug that can boost the innate immune response.'

The study was published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.