London: Scientists have developed a new test of umbilical cord blood which they say could detect how strong a baby`s immune system is at birth, and how likely the child is to fall prey to colds in the first year.
Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine who developed the test said their technique identifies which babies have a diminished immune response to viruses from a sample of their umbilical cord blood.
These babies, the researchers found, were more likely to go on and suffer respiratory infections in their first year.
"Viral respiratory infections are common during childhood. Usually they are mild, but there`s a wide range of responses -- from regular cold symptoms to severe lung infections and even, in rare instances, death," lead author, Dr Kaharu Sumino was quoted by the Daily Mail as saying.
"We wanted to look at whether the innate immune response -- the response to viruses that you`re born with - has any effect on the risk of getting respiratory infections during the baby`s first year," Sumino said.
For their study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, the team used blood samples taken from 82 babies in the delivery room to measure for a specific immune system response to viral infections known as interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma).
The researchers isolated a type of white blood cell, from the babies` cord blood and infected these cells with a common respiratory virus.
They then measured the amount of IFN-gamma protein the body produced in response to help fight the virus. The parents of babies who produced high levels of IFN-gamma reported they had fewer colds over the year.
Meanwhile the babies who produced low levels suffered more frequent colds.
They were also more likely to experience ear and sinus infections, pneumonia and hospitalisations due to respiratory illness.
This latest study along with previous research in mice and human cells, supports the idea that finding a way to boost the body`s innate immunity via the IFN-gamma signalling system could help babies to fight a broad range of viruses.
"We`re not there yet -- measuring IFN-gamma levels is complex. But in the future, if we can develop a relatively easy way to find out if someone has a deficiency in this system, we would like to be able to give a drug that can boost the innate immune response."