Exploring a new frontier: The immune system of the premature infant, its interplay with the microbiome, and their relevance in the pathophysiology of major diseases of prematurity

Research area

 |  newborn health


 |  immunology, paediatrics, neonatology, translational medicine, microbiome


 |  PhD/Doctorate, Honours

Contact supervisors at any time

Professor Marcel Nold
e: marcel.nold@monash.edu

Project description

Surprisingly little is known about the immune system and the microbiome of preterm infants, which therefore represent problematically blank pages for clinicians on the one hand, but a true frontier for researchers on the other. Another reason why preterm immunity and microbiome represent a new frontier is that technology has advanced enough only recently to allow us to extract large amounts of information from sample volumes as small as 0.5 ml – which in fact is a significant volume of blood to take from the tiny patients, considering that the total blood volume is as small as 35 ml in some of the babies.

Our laboratory is conducting an exciting study called GLAM & I (The gut and lung and their microbiomes & immunology), in which blood is taken from extremely premature infants at multiple timepoints, thus allowing for a unique longitudinal view the immune systema and its interplay with the microbiome. To explore these systems in depth, we use cutting edge methods such as proteomics, highly multiplexed flow cytometry and transcriptomics, which students can learn. Since we also have access to the babies’ clinical data, we will be able to perform correlation analyses and draw conclusions about the relevance of our findings to the major diseases of prematurity such as bronchopulmonary dysplasia, intracranial haemorrhage and necrotising enterocolitis. These insights may lead to the identification of biomarkers and/or new therapeutic targets, which are direly needed as several of these diseases are clinically highly problematic and currently untreatable.

Direct clinical relevance: high

Hands-on learning opportunities: Multi-color flow cytometry, proteomics, cell culture of primary human blood cells, clinical aspects such as patient recruitment and sample collection.