Cincinnati Children’s receives $6.7 million grant from Gates Foundation to study influenza vaccine in pregnant women in Asia

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center has received a $6.7 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help prevent flu in pregnant women and their infants in rural areas around the world.

Most childhood deaths occur in the first hours and months of life when infants are most susceptible to infections. In developing countries, where many births happen at home, protecting these infants is a challenge. Maternal immunization, which is routinely used in developing countries to prevent tetanus in infants, could also offer us a tool to help mothers protect their infants against influenza in this vulnerable time.

Researchers led by the Cincinnati Children's Division of Global Health will expand on a recent study (also supported by a Gates Foundation grant) showing that influenza vaccine not only prevents pregnant women from getting the flu, but also protects their infants. The new study, to be conducted in Asia, will evaluate the safety and effectiveness of maternal flu vaccination in areas with limited medical resources.

"We have already shown, with the earlier first randomized trial in an urban setting, that the influenza vaccine protects both mothers and their children," says Mark Steinhoff, MD, director of the Division of Global Health. That study, named Mother's Gift, was published in the Oct. 9, 2008, issue of The New England Journal of Medicine. "This new, larger field study will help us demonstrate the full effect of the flu vaccination in low-resource areas."

Flu vaccine is already recommended and used in pregnant women in the US and Canada. This will be the first step in providing that same opportunity to women in the developing world. The study will also help researchers understand the effect that vaccinating mothers has on unvaccinated family members. Studies conducted in the US have shown that vaccinating one family member also provides protection to unvaccinated family members, increasing the benefits of vaccination.

Dr. Steinhoff with colleagues from Johns Hopkins and the University of Washington will carry out the study in rural areas of Bangladesh or Nepal. The study of 1,500 women will take five years to complete.

Dr. Steinhoff said the study could have worldwide implications. "If the flu vaccine has as great an effect in rural settings as in urban ones, the data will be globally relevant and useful to countries considering new vaccine policies."

Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center is one of America's top three children's hospitals for general pediatrics and is highly ranked for its expertise in digestive diseases, respiratory diseases, cancer, neonatal care, heart care and neurosurgery, according to the annual ranking of best children's hospitals by U.S. News & World Report. One of the three largest children's hospitals in the U.S., Cincinnati Children's is affiliated with the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and is one of the top two recipients of pediatric research grants from the National Institutes of Health.

Contact Information

Tom McCormally, 513-636-9682, thomas.mccormally@cchmc.org