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Major breakthrough in understanding why respiratory disease is so common in young children

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Researchers in Sheffield have made a major breakthrough in understanding why respiratory disease is so common in young children.

Experts at Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust have spent more than ten years investigating the impact of Acute Bronchiolitis and the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) in babies.

The team, led by Mark Everard, Consultant in Paediatric Respiratory Diseases at the Children’s Hospital, has discovered that the virus successfully infects and hides in a network of key cells in the lungs preventing the development of effective immunity.

The annual respiratory disease epidemic caused by RSV is now well underway across the country with many babies being admitted to hospital because of this virus. In Sheffield alone, hundreds of babies will be admitted to the city’s Children’s Hospital in the coming months.

Mark Everard said: "Through our research we have discovered that the virus infects and hides in the dendritic cells, which form a network throughout the lungs, processing foreign material and directing the immune response.

"By infecting the cell network, the virus appears to be able to prevent the development of long lasting effective immunity and linger in the lungs of infected individuals between the winter epidemics."

Sheffield Children’s Hospital’s research team is now extending its work to try and find a method of preventing the latent infection of dendritic cells with the aim of breaking the annual cycle of infections.

The research has been part-funded by Sheffield Children’s Hospital Charity, which is aiming to raise £250,000 for research into conditions such as brittle bones, cystic fibrosis, asthma, diabetes and for newborn screening.

Mark added: "Fortunately most babies do very well due to the improved care that is now available, though there are still more than 20 deaths amongst babies every year in the UK attributable to RSV infections and unfortunately there is no effective vaccine despite decades of work, which is why investment in research is so vital.

"The peak of the epidemic invariably occurs at Christmas and as a result a very large proportion of families are spending the festive period in hospital. Watching their baby struggle for breath, having to be given oxygen to breath properly and fed through a tube because they are too breathless to feed is extremely distressing for the parents at any time of the year but is particularly hard at a time during the holiday period."

This Christmas, the charity’s research appeal will be boosted by a Personal Snowflake appeal. By pledging just £25, families and individuals can give the gift of hope in the shape of a snowflake, each with the donor’s name, and will be displayed inside the hospital.

Cheryl Ridge, fundraiser for Sheffield Children’s Hospital Charity, said: "The research carried out by Mark Everard and the team is another key step forward in understanding why the virus is so prevalent in children and it highlights just how important research is in helping many young people.

"Christmas can be a difficult time for families whose children who have to spend the festive period in hospital. By supporting our snowflakes appeal, it will serve as a reminder that the public are thinking of them and want to help, while raising money for an extremely worthwhile cause."

(Source: Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust: December 2008)

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Posted On: 30 December, 2008
Modified On: 16 January, 2014


Created by: myVMC