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Entries from February 1, 2016 - February 29, 2016

Sunday
Feb212016

Working moms have more successful daughters and more caring sons

Not necessarily restricted to women in science, but well worth a read. It is not a choice between career and family - being a successful career woman actually provides a wonderful role-model to your children. So don't feel guilty about hiring a baby-sitter or even (shock! horror!) asking the father to do some parenting.

Thursday
Feb182016

...and yet we still have kids

Great job by PhD student in the lab, Dean Frankaert, on VTM news last night - Belgian TV star! 

Our research on the shaping of the human immune system has also had a lot of international media attention the last few days. New Scientist has a great article on the work, and I have to give a special call out to the Daily Mail, since the journalist who wrote this article was savvy enough to ask about Pathogen-Associated Molecular Patterns. It is also fun to read quotes from yourself in German or Italian. My personal favourite, however, would have to be the Australian media:

If you had to rate how hard parenting is, where would you put it on a scale from "perfectly fine" to "worse than suffering from extreme vomiting and diarrhoea"?

If you answered "somewhere in between", you might be surprised to hear the truth is even more extreme – because new research has discovered that parenting hits your immune system harder than travellers' gastroenteritis.

Yes, that's right – raising children is as hard on your body as projectile vomiting in a foreign airport.

It's funny because it is true.

Wednesday
Feb172016

Een kind verandert alles, vooral je immuunsysteem

Voor welke ziektekiemen we vatbaar zijn, hangt af van onze genen, ons gewicht en hoe goed we ons in ons vel voelen. Maar het belangrijkste effect hebben kinderen.

Het immuunsysteem beschermt ons tegen ziekten. Tegen welke ziektekiemen het lichaam precies gewapend is, verschilt sterk van persoon tot persoon. Een onderzoeksteam van de Leuvense tak van het Vlaams Instituut voor Biotechnologie en het Britse Babraham Institute vond in het bloed van 670 proefpersonen aanwijzingen dat mensen elkaars immuunsysteem sterk beïnvloeden. Adrian Liston leidde het onderzoek.

Professor Liston, veel jonge ouders worden ziek, zodra hun kindje naar de crèche gaat. U hebt vastgesteld dat een kind grootbrengen het immuunsysteem van de ouders verandert. Ten slechte?

‘Niet per se. We zien dat personen die samenwonen, op den duur immuunsystemen hebben die sterk op elkaar lijken. Terwijl voorheen de ene misschien zeer vatbaar was voor bacteriële ziektes en minder voor virale aandoeningen, kan hij van de ander de weerbaarheid tegen virussen overnemen. Hij is dan voortaan wel, net als zijn partner, kwetsbaar voor bacteriën. Het risico op bepaalde ziektes neemt dus door het samenleven toe, het risico op andere dan weer af.’

‘Samen een kind grootbrengen blijkt dat effect te versterken. Ons onderzoek bij kinderen en volwassenen uit België en het Verenigd Koninkrijk toont aan dat een kind voor je immuunsysteem zelfs een belangrijkere rol speelt dan je genen, je gewicht, je geslacht of hoe je je voelt.’

Hoe komt dat?

‘Als je gedurende tien seconden kust, wissel je zo’n 80 miljoen bacteriën uit. Op een gegeven moment draag je dus dezelfde bacteriën als je partner en daar reageert je immuunsysteem op. Als twee volwassenen samen voor hun kindje zorgen, wisselen ze ook via het kindje bacteriën en virussen uit.’

Als de ene ouder ziek wordt, is de ander dus ook buiten strijd?

‘Ja. Maar dat is op zich niet zorgwekkend bij personen die voor de rest gezond zijn.’

‘In een rusthuis is dat iets anders. De bewoners hebben geen intieme relatie met elkaar, maar ze wonen wel allemaal samen. Mogelijk lijken hun immuunsystemen sterk op elkaar en is de groep zeer vatbaar voor uitbraken, bijvoorbeeld van griep. Dat zouden we graag in detail verder onderzoeken.’

 

Courtesy of De Staandard

Tuesday
Feb162016

Think twice before you have kids!

Prof Michelle Linterman, co-lead author on our recent study on the effect of children on the immune system, has been hitting the airwaves today:

Interested? Listen here for a recap of the BBC World Service (conversation runs from 08.53-12.40), or here for the Today show (45.07).

Monday
Feb152016

Share a child? Then your immune systems look pretty similar too

The human immune system is shaped by family and household

Raising a child together has a greater effect on your immune system than the seasonal 'flu vaccine or travellers' gastroenteritis, a study by researchers at the VIB in Belgium and the Babraham Institute in the UK has found.

The research took a detailed look at the immune systems of 670 people, ranging from 2-86 years of age, to understand more about what drives variation in our immune systems between individuals. From an assessment of the effects of a range of factors, including age, gender and obesity, one of the most potent factors that altered an individual's immune system was whether they co-parented a child. Individuals who lived together and shared a child showed a 50% reduction in the variation between their two immune systems, compared with the diversity seen in the wider population. 

Dr Adrian Liston, a researcher at the VIB and University of Leuven who co-led the research said: "This is the first time anyone has looked at the immune profiles of two unrelated individuals in a close relationship. Since parenting is one of the most severe environmental challenges anyone willingly puts themselves through, it makes sense that it radically rewires the immune system - still, it was a surprise that having kids was a much more potent immune challenge than severe gasteroenteritis. That's at least something for prospective parents to consider - the sleep deprivation, stress, chronic infections and all the other challenges of parenting does more to our body than just gives us grey hairs. I think that any parents of a nursery- or school-age child can appreciate the effect a child has on your immune system!"

Every individual has a unique immune system, something which can be visualised as a unique location in “immunological space”. Our immune systems are also dynamic, with minor differences on a day-to-day basis. The biggest shapers of our immune systems are age, with a gradual ageing of the immune system over time, and cohabitation, where having a child together causes the unique immune signature of each individual to come much closer. Image produced by Dr Carl 

Participants in the study were assessed over a period of three years. Regularly monitoring their immune systems showed that the individuals maintained a stable immune landscape over time, even after their immune systems were triggered into action by the seasonal ‘flu vaccine or gastroenteritis. The researchers found that following immune challenge, our immune systems tend to bounce back to the original steady state, demonstrating the elastic potential of our immune system.

In assessing the effect of other factors on the immune system, such as age, obesity, gender, anxiety and depression, the study found that age is a crucial factor in shaping the immunological landscape, agreeing with the age-related decline seen in response to vaccination and reduced resistance to infection.

Dr Michelle Linterman, a researcher at the Babraham Institute who co-led the research said: “Our research shows that we all have a stable immune landscape which is robustly maintained. What is different between individuals is what our individual immune systems look like. We know that only a small part of this is due to genetics. Our study has shown that age is a major influence on what our immune landscapes look like, which is probably one of the reasons why there is a declining response to vaccination and reduced resistance to infection in older persons.”

The research is published by the leading international journal Nature Immunology and was funded by two European Research Council grants. Dr Michelle Linterman and her group at the Babraham Institute are supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.  Dr Adrian Liston and his group are members of the VIB and University of Leuven, in Belgium.


Publication: Carr et al. (2016) The human immune system is robustly maintained in multiple equilibriums by age and cohabitation. Nature Immunology

Thursday
Feb112016

Does it take too long to publish research?

This is the question posed by Nature this week. The article is full of stories of research papers submitted to Science and then finally accepted two years later in PLoS One. Certainly I've had experiences pretty close to that, and for big stories from my lab about a year between submission and acceptance is normal. At Nature, the median time between acceptance and publication is 150 days (up from 85 days a decade ago). Even more striking is the amount of data needed to get into Nature - a 10-fold increase in data panels (and each panel has a lot more information too!).

The big problem is not really the dozens of experiments needed to reply to reviewers though. Rather, I think the hardest part is the roulette of getting editors/reviewers that like the paper. The article is rather dismissive of "journal shopping", but the simple fact is that submitting a paper is a lot like rolling the dice. 95% of articles that I have published have ended up in a journal of similar rank to the initial submission (the other 5% cause most of the heart-ache). But this doesn't mean that there is a smooth ride. Rather, you can spend a year at review at Cell, doing all the experiments those reviewers want, then you still get rejected. The paper gets rejected at Immunity without review, then Nature Medicine sends it out but gives you new reviewers who want an entirely different set of experiments. No matter how much you have done, the big journals will always ask for more - and you can't predict in advance what they will ask.

All of this takes a lot of time, however having published in the social sciences as well, they are even slower. The difference is in how much effort and energy the publication process takes in medicine. At a top journal, it is not unusual for the revision to require €100,000 in salary and reagents to get those last experiments done for the reviewer. To me, the more important question is whether this cost is worth it.

 

Friday
Feb052016

Thursday
Feb042016

School outreach

Many thanks to Annemarie, Dean and Evelyne for inspiring the next generation of scientists!