AIGHD’s Dr. Vanessa Harris successfully defends Rotavirus thesis

The Amsterdam Institute for Global Health & Development (AIGHD) shares in celebrating a wonderful accomplishment by one of our team members: Dr. Vanessa Harris successfully defended her thesis.

The thesis defense ceremony took place on Wednesday, April 25, 2018 at the Aula – Oude Lutherse Kerk in Amsterdam. A celebration with family, friends and colleagues followed.

Dr. Harris first joined the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development team in 2012 as a PhD Fellow and is now a Physician Scientist. Her work was co-supervised by AIGHD’s founder, Professor Joep Lange, and later by Professor Michael Boele Van Hensbroek, MD, PhD and the University of Amsterdam’s Faculty of Medicine Professor Joost Wiersinga, MD, PhD.

Her thesis, The Role of the Intestinal Microbiome in Rotavirus Vaccine Immunogenicity. An Exploration from Correlation to Causation, investigated whether gut microbiome impacted the effectiveness of the rotavirus vaccine in children living in low-income countries.

Hundreds of thousands of children under the age of five die annually from rotavirus, which is the leading cause of diarrhea-related death in children worldwide. Though rotavirus vaccines can protect against rotavirus disease, they are significantly less effective in low-income countries.

Dr. Harris and her team studied the intestinal microbiome in participants from Pakistan and Ghana as well as The Netherlands. They uncovered a significant correlation between intestinal microbiome composition and rotavirus vaccine effectiveness among infants in low-income countries. She and her colleagues then demonstrated that alteration of the microbiome could boost immunity from the rotavirus vaccine. These findings suggest the composition of the intestinal microbiome might help explain why rotavirus vaccines protect children less well against rotavirus disease in low-income settings.

Dr. Harris is currently continuing her work in the Rotabiome project, a project supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which studies the intestinal microbiome and rotavirus vaccination in Ghana in over a longer time period and in much more depth.