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Premature babies can develop healthy immune systems as they age

Researchers say immune function can catch up and start to develop after birth

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Photo (c) nattanan726 - Getty Images
Previous studies have revealed the risks associated with premature birth, but a new study conducted by researchers from King’s College London suggests that immune function may not necessarily be one of them.

The researchers discovered that it’s possible for premature infants to develop fully functioning immune systems as they age. 

“These data highlight the majority of immune development takes place after birth and, as such, even those babies born very prematurely have the ability to develop a normal immune system,” said researcher Dr. Deena Gibbons. 

Understanding immune development

To understand how immune function develops beyond birth, the researchers followed babies born before the 32-week mark. 

The researchers analyzed the babies’ immune system function after birth and tracked their progress as they aged to determine how their immune health changed, if at all. The study revealed that babies born prematurely were able to develop fully functioning immune systems as they aged. This was true regardless of when the babies were born, as the researchers explained that these results were consistent with the earliest point of birth for this study, which was 28 weeks.

The researchers explained that experts are primarily concerned about premature babies’ risk of infection, though this study could help alleviate some of those worries. The findings could be used as a way to better identify newborns who could be at risk and provide them with the proper course of treatment that would better serve their future health outcomes. 

“We are continuing to study the role of CXCL8-producing T cell and how it can be activated to help babies fight infection,” said Dr. Gibbons. “We also want to take a closer look at other immune functions that can change during infection to help improve outcomes for this vulnerable group.” 

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