Prof. Christine Stabell Benn
Professor in Global Health, Statens Serum Institut
Christine Stabell Benn is a medical doctor (1996), PhD (2003) and Doctor of Medical Science (2011) from University of Copenhagen. She has worked at the Bandim Health Project in Guinea-Bissau (BHP, www.bandim.org) since 1993, starting as a medical student. She has spent postdoc time at the Danish National Hospital, Department for Infectious Diseases and at Stanford University. In 2010 Dr. Benn received an ERC Starting Grant. In 2012, Dr. Benn was selected by the Danish National Research Foundation to establish and lead a Center of Excellence, the “Research Center for Vitamins and Vaccines” (CVIVA,
www.cviva.dk). Since 2013, Dr. Benn is also Professor in Global Health at University of Southern Denmark.
Christine Stabell Benn is responsible for planning, executing and publishing epidemiological and immunological studies of health interventions in Guinea-Bissau and Denmark. She supervises a number of pre- and postgraduate/PhD students.Christine Stabell Benn has formulated the hypothesis that vitamin A supplementation and routine child vaccinations interact with consequences for mortality. Both types of interventions seem to have non-specific effects on the immune system, affecting its ability to handle infectious diseases. The effects are different in boys and girls.
Using vaccines to increase general resistance to infections
We all know that some people get fewer and less severe infections than others, even if equally exposed. These people are apparently very resistant against getting infected and/or getting clinically ill when infected. Rather than seeking tools to combat one old or emerging infection after the other, we should strive to increase the general resistance against infections, so everybody becomes as resistant as the most resistant people we know.
We may have a tool for accomplishing that in the live attenuated vaccines. Our groups’ epidemiological studies in low-income countries with high pressure of infectious diseases and high childhood mortality has shown that live attenuated vaccines like BCG vaccine, measles vaccine and oral polio vaccine reduce infectious disease mortality and morbidity much more than can be ascribed to the prevention of the vaccine-target disease. They have so-called “non-specific effects”.
Immunological studies have recently provided a biological mechanism for these non-specific effects by demonstrating that live vaccines can induce epigenetic modifications of the innate immune cells, leading to increased general reactivity towards pathogens.
We propose that by optimizing the use of these live vaccines, providing them earlier and more frequently than done now, we can increase the general resistance to infections, with significant impact on global health and health care costs.