The University Medical Center (UMC) Utrecht is researching which risk factors play a role in child mortality caused by the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Around 250 thousand young children around the world die every year from an respiratory tract infection caused by an RSV infection. The objective of the GOLD study is to determine how to protect millions of children around the world through vaccination against RSV. The research is funded by a grant of 800 thousand dollars from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

At present, there are no modalities to prevent or to treat an RSV infection. There are, however, more than 15 RSV vaccines in development, including maternal vaccines (expectant mothers are vaccinated in their 3rd trimester of pregnancy) and vaccines that are administered to babys after birth. To determine the impact of the various types of vaccines, it is important to meticulously map the risk factors worldwide for child mortality due to RSV.

Worldwide database

The data is collected in the Global OnLine death Database (GOLD), set up by the UMC Utrecht. The worldwide data of children under 5 that have died after respiratory infection due to RSV is collected and analyzed in GOLD to identify the main risk factors for child mortality due to RSV.  Doctors will particularly investigate the influence of gestational age, birth defects, HIV infection, nutritional condition and age at time of death.

Implications for vaccine development

The data, in particular those related to gestational age and age at death, is important for determining the extent to which maternal vaccination can protect against death due to RSV infection. A maternal vaccine protects newborn babies against infection for only 3 to 6 months. In order to protect children beyond those six months and to prevent child mortality, they must be vaccinated after birth.

According to professor of pediatrics and principal investigator Prof. Dr. Louis Bont of the Wilhelmina Children's Hospital (part of UMC Utrecht) an RSV infection is the world's second leading cause of death in infancy after malaria. "We are certain that research into risk factors for child mortality due to RSV will have a groundbreaking effect on the development of a vaccine. The research results will enable us to determine which type of vaccine should be prioritized for further development and which type of vaccine can best be administered in a particular situation."

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation aims to reduce worldwide child mortality due to respiratory infections. To that end, the Foundation supports various initiatives, such as mapping child mortality due to RSV and the development of maternal vaccines.