Healthy Lungs & Immune Development
Focusing on the developmental trajectories of respiratory health includes developing strategies to improve and support immune system function and development over the life course.
It is well-recognised that longer pregnancies and strategies to delay early delivery (i.e. efforts to support maternal health) can have massive impacts on long term health outcomes. The aetiology of virtually all non-communicable diseases (NCDs) is attributable to gene-environment interactions occurring both in utero and during infancy that critically shape the maturation of multiple organ systems, including the lungs. In this way, the early life environment sets a developmental course that can influence life-long susceptibility to a range of diseases. The immune system plays a central role in recognising/responding to environmental signals and thus plays a pivotal role during the early-life development of respiratory function. Understanding how inflammatory responses in the mother during gestation result in increased risk for a range of diseases in the developing foetus is thus of critical importance to reducing the significant respiratory healthcare burden in this country.
By addressing our fundamental gaps in the understanding of immune development, homeostatic mechanisms, and how the immune system can be programmed to drive increased disease susceptibility or trained to mitigate disease risk, we can develop potential preventive strategies for respiratory health. Our approach includes mapping the development of the ‘healthy’ immune system at the cellular, molecular and epigenetic level to identify systems biomarkers predictive of future chronic inflammatory diseases, and investigating ways to train the immune system for improved functionality and prevention of such diseases.
In preclinical models, immunomodulatory agents have been shown to enhance the regulation of maternal inflammatory responses to infections and reduce the negative impact on foetal growth/development. We are conducting studies to identify immunomodulatory interventions that can improve health outcomes for the newborn child, as well as those that can support healthy immune systems throughout life, particularly during critical periods of vulnerability and reduced capacity for regulation. In doing so, we hope to identify translational strategies to reduce the significant burden of respiratory diseases affecting children and the adults they will become.