Researchers study how powerful meds affect flu vaccine
October 12, 2012
Study seeks participants with inflammatory bowel disease
Story by Greg Harris; Photo by Paul Rotzinger
Anyone who has ever had the flu knows how unpleasant the experience can be. But for 13-year-old Allegra Rushford, getting the flu could pose a very serious health risk.
“Once my sister and I both had the flu at the same time and it was a lot worse for me,” Allegra says. Diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when she was 7, Allegra takes immunosuppressive medication to control the inflammation – which can also make her more susceptible to infections like the flu virus.
The Strathmore teen is one of the first to sign up for a new research study at Alberta Children’s Hospital that’s trying to find out if people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) should be concerned about the timing of their flu shots in relation to when they receive their immune-suppressing medication.
“If there’s a way this will help other kids with the same condition, then I’m happy to take part in the study,” Allegra says.
Many people with IBD, such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, receive immunosuppressive medications to control inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract, which in turn reduces symptoms such as diarrhea, cramping and bleeding.
“Some people with moderate to severe IBD receive a powerful immunosuppressive medication called infliximab every six to eight weeks, which turns down inflammation and keeps it under control,” says Dr. Jennifer deBruyn, a pediatric gastroenterologist at the Alberta Children’s Hospital and a member of the University of Calgary’s Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute for Child and Maternal Health.
“However, because the flu vaccine triggers the body’s immune system to produce antibodies that help ward off flu infections, we do not know whether the vaccine’s effectiveness varies in people on immunosuppressive drugs, especially in people on infliximab. We also don’t know if there are variations in vaccine response that depend on when they receive it, relative to when they receive infliximab.”
People on immunosuppressive drugs are considered to be at high risk for flu and are urged to get their shots as early in the season as possible. Researchers hope a better understanding of immune responses to influenza vaccination in people on immunosuppressive drugs will help provide practical guidelines for the best timing of influenza vaccination in this patient population.
“The research could also have important implications for other people on immunosuppressive drugs like infliximab, including those with rheumatoid arthritis or psoriasis,” deBruyn says.
Researchers will be looking for 20 children and 130 adults with IBD on infliximab to take part in the study, which officially launches once the flu vaccine becomes publicly available Oct. 15. They hope to have all study participants enrolled and vaccinated within the first six weeks.
Inflammatory bowel disease, a lifelong condition, is thought to be triggered by a complex interplay between genetics, diet, and the immune system.
The research study is investigator-initiated and financially supported by the pharmaceutical company Janssen Inc., the makers of Remicade, which is the trade name for infliximab.
To find out if you are eligible to participate in the study, contact the research co-ordinators at 403-955-3198.