Dr Michelle Linterman receives funding to understand how age affects vaccine response

17/03/2022

Dr Michelle Linterman receives funding to understand how age affects vaccine response

Dr Michelle Linterman receives funding to understand how age affects vaccine response

Key points:

  • Today the European Research Council announced the recipients of their Consolidator Grants, including Dr Michelle Linterman, group leader in the Immunology research programme.
  • Dr Linterman’s project seeks to understand the why immune response after vaccination declines with age, with a particular focus on the germinal centre.
  • A full understanding of the germinal centre response with ageing could be used to improve the design of vaccines specifically aimed at bolstering immunity in older individuals

Dr Michelle Linterman, Immunology programme group leader, has been awarded funding from the European Research Council (ERC) to expand our understanding of vaccine response with age. Dr Linterman’s ERC Consolidator Grant will fund a five year project building a comprehensive picture of how germinal centre biology changes with age.

The germinal centre is a key focus of Dr Linterman’s immunology research. Acting as a hub of immunity, the germinal centre is a site for collaboration between different immune cells. One of the cells involved is the T follicular helper (Tfh) cell, these cells move to the germinal centre to assist with generating an immune response. The aim of this new research is to change our understanding of fundamental Tfh cell biology, and identify what causes the diminished germinal centre response to vaccination as we age.

Dr Michelle Linterman

Dr Linterman said: “Our research will help to push the boundaries of our understanding of the germinal centre. This is a crucial avenue of investigation when we consider the efficacy of vaccines for older people, highlighted recently by the COVID pandemic. Our previous research has laid the groundwork for further investigation into the role of T follicular helper cells in the germinal centre and I look forward to focussing on the impact that location of these cells has on the outputs of the immune response.”

The research of Dr Linterman’s and her team to date have led her to hypothesise that as we age, Tfh cells don’t reach the right location which results in a defective germinal centre. Her team will not only establish the different roles that T follicular helper cells play in the germinal centre beyond those currently characterised, but also seeks to map the movements of Tfh in the germinal centre, and how these movements impact germinal centre outputs.

One of the main barriers to this type of research has been the availability of tissues from people of different ages. Dr Linterman has developed a connection with the Cambridge Biorepository for Translational Medicine to overcome these challenges. The analysis of these tissues will help Dr Linterman’s lab to create the most comprehensive dataset to date on how the human germinal centre reaction is altered by ageing.

Dr Linterman’s team will work with the Institute’s facilities, making use of the state of the art equipment and expert knowledge held within them in order to explore different avenues of analysis. They will use a new mouse model which allows researchers to manipulate the presence of Tfh cells without having an impact on other T cell types.

Simon Cook, Interim Director, said: “It is great to see the ERC recognise the importance of investigating the changing immune response to vaccination with age. Michelle is at the forefront of this area of research, having advanced our understanding of how age affects germinal centre development and leading a key study into the effect of age on immune response to the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID vaccine. I am delighted for Michelle and look forward to the insights that can be gained by looking more closely at the germinal centre; work that may pave the way for improved vaccination responses.”

The ERC Consolidator Grants are awarded to outstanding researchers of any nationality and age, with seven to twelve years of experience after their PhD, and a scientific track record showing great promise. The ERC Consolidator Grant awarded to Dr Linterman was one of 95 Life Science ERC grants awarded in this round from 783 submitted proposals. For more details about this round of the 2021 ERC Consolidator Grant funding, see the announcement issued by the ERC. 

Notes

Press contact
Honor Pollard, Communications Officer, honor.pollard@babraham.ac.uk

Image description: Tfh cells (green) within a germinal centre. Credit: Ine Vanderleyden, Babraham Institute

Additional/related resources:
Linterman lab page
News 4th November 2021, Limiting inflammation may improve ‘flu vaccination response in older people
News 13th May 2021, Babraham Institute scientists find clues to explain reduced vaccine response with age
News 16th December 2020, Exploring the effects of age on the immune response to Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccine
Research feature (Annual Research Report 2019-2020): Responding to the COVID crisis
Research feature (Annual Research Report 2017): Vaccinations: a Global Challenge

About the Babraham Institute
The Babraham Institute undertakes world-class life sciences research to generate new knowledge of biological mechanisms underpinning ageing, development and the maintenance of health. Our research focuses on cellular signalling, gene regulation and the impact of epigenetic regulation at different stages of life. By determining how the body reacts to dietary and environmental stimuli and manages microbial and viral interactions, we aim to improve wellbeing and support healthier ageing. The Institute is strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, through Institute Strategic Programme Grants and an Institute Core Capability Grant and also receives funding from other UK research councils, charitable foundations, the EU and medical charities.

About BBSRC
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by government, BBSRC invested £451 million in world-class bioscience in 2019-20. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

About the ERC
The ERC, set up by the European Union in 2007, is the premier European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. It funds creative researchers of any nationality and age, to run projects based across Europe. The ERC offers four core grant schemes: Starting Grants, Consolidator Grants, Advanced Grants and Synergy Grants. With its additional Proof of Concept Grant scheme, the ERC helps grantees to bridge the gap between their pioneering research and early phases of its commercialisation. The ERC is led by an independent governing body, the Scientific Council