Santtu Heinonen

Towards better treatment for RSV infection

Santtu Heinonen, HUS, Lasten ja nuorten sairaudet

The project of Santtu Heinonen, MD, studies pediatric respiratory infections. The group examines why RSV causes difficult infections in small babies in particular. In addition, the aim is to identify potential targets for developing medicinal products and vaccines.

RSV or the respiratory syncytial virus causes difficult respiratory infections in small babies and often requires inpatient care. Vaccines or medication for the infection do not yet exist. In developing countries, RSV causes significant mortality.

Santtu Heinonen explains that the purpose of this study is to acquire new information on the immunological mechanisms of the disease and on the factors increasing its severity, in order to be able to develop more effective medicinal products and vaccines for the treatment of RSV in the future.

The study is already progressing from a pilot stage to the next phase. The first samples from babies with RSV infection and healthy children of the same age have been collected. The aim is to extend the study and continue to collect material during winter 2018–2019. Initially, the researchers wanted to ensure that the analytical research methods are operational. At the same time, strategies for analysis were created and tested.

After an examination of the immunological mechanisms at the acute stage, the researchers will monitor the children involved in the study and their subsequent respiratory morbidity. The children will be invited to a control visit at the age of four to six years.

– We are very pleased that the parents of small children have been so positive about the study and actively involved in it although their own child cannot expect direct benefits from the study. The parents consider it important that the involvement of their child in the study may help other children in the future.

Pediatric excellence

Santtu Heinonen launched his study in 2017 by means of Pediatric Academic track funding. Heinonen, who specialises in pediatrics at the Helsinki University Hospital, completed his dissertation on pediatric influenza and then worked as a postdoc researcher at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Columbus, Ohio. There, he focused on the immunological mechanisms of RSV infections.

This study uses the new single cell RNAseq methods which can examine the expression of genes on the level of single cells. Individual samples can be used to simultaneously analyse thousands of cells and to acquire an extremely accurate view of the function of the body’s defence cells during infections.

The research group has extensive competencies in pediatric infectious diseases, pediatric pulmonary diseases, clinical microbiology and immunology. The study is carried out in conjunction with Päivi Saavalainen’s laboratory (University of Helsinki, Immunobiology Research Program). The laboratory serves as a Single Cell RNA seq core laboratory and is in charge of analysing samples.

As the project expands and the collection of material progresses, the aim is to engage a research nurse and recruit a dissertation researcher or researchers as well as students carrying out their advanced studies.

Contact details

Santtu Heinonen
Helsinki University Hospital Children and Adolescents