A team led by scientists from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) has unveiled a new technique for vaccine design that could be particularly useful against HIV and other fast-changing viruses.
The report, which appears March 28, 2013, in Science Express, the early online edition of the journal Science, offers a step toward solving what has been one of the central problems of modern vaccine design: how to stimulate the immune system to produce the right kind of antibody response to protect against a wide range of viral strains. The researchers demonstrated their new technique by engineering an immunogen (substance that induces immunity) that has promise to reliably initiate an otherwise rare response effective against many types of HIV.
“We’re hoping to test this immunogen soon in mice engineered to produce human antibodies, and eventually in humans,” said team leader William R. Schief, who is an associate professor of immunology and member of the IAVI Neutralizing Antibody Center at TSRI.
Seeking a Better Way
For highly variable viruses such as HIV and influenza, vaccine researchers want to elicit antibodies that protect against most or all viral strains — not just a few strains, as seasonal flu vaccines currently on the market. Vaccine researchers have identified several of these broadly neutralizing antibodies from long-term HIV-positive survivors, harvesting antibody-producing B cells from blood samples and then sifting through them to identify those that produce antibodies capable of neutralizing multiple strains of HIV. Such broadly neutralizing antibodies typically work by blocking crucial functional sites on a virus that are conserved among different strains despite high mutation elsewhere.
However, even with these powerful broadly neutralizing antibodies in hand, scientists need to find a way to elicit their production in the body through a vaccine. “For example, to elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies called VRC01-class antibodies that neutralize 90 percent of known HIV strains, you could try using the HIV envelope protein as your immunogen,” said Schief, “but you run into the problem that the envelope protein doesn’t bind with any detectable affinity to the B cells needed to launch a broadly neutralizing antibody response.”
To reliably initiate that VRC01-class antibody response, Schief and his colleagues therefore sought to develop a new method for designing vaccine immunogens.
From Weak to Strong
Joseph Jardine, a TSRI graduate student in the Schief laboratory, evaluated the genes of VRC01-producing B cells in order to deduce the identities of the less mature B cells — known as germline B cells — from which they originate. Germline B cells are major targets of modern viral vaccines, because it is the initial stimulation of these B cells and their antibodies that leads to a long-term antibody response.
In response to vaccination, germline B cells could, in principle, mature into the desired VRC01-producing B cells — but natural HIV proteins fail to bind or stimulate these germline B cells so they cannot get the process started. The team thus set out to design an artificial immunogen that would be successful at achieving this.
Jardine used a protein modeling software suite called Rosetta to improve the binding of VRC01 germline B cell antibodies to HIV’s envelope protein. “We asked Rosetta to look for mutations on the side of the HIV envelope protein that would help it bind tightly to our germline antibodies,” he said.
Rosetta identified dozens of mutations that could help improve binding to germline antibodies. Jardine then generated libraries that contained all possible combinations of beneficial mutations, resulting in millions of mutants, and screened them using techniques called yeast surface display and FACS. This combination of computational prediction and directed evolution successfully produced a few mutant envelope proteins with high affinity for germline VRC01-class antibodies.
Jardine then focused on making a minimal immunogen — much smaller than HIV envelope — and so continued development using the “engineered outer domain (eOD)” previously developed by Po-Ssu Huang in the Schief lab while Schief was at the University of Washington. Several iterative rounds of design and selection using a panel of germline antibodies produced a final, optimized immunogen — a construct they called eOD-GT6.
A Closer Look
To get a better look at eOD-GT6 and its interaction with germline antibodies, the team turned to the laboratory of Ian A. Wilson, chair of the Department of Integrative Structural and Computational Biology and a member of the IAVI Neutralizing Antibody Center at TSRI.
Jean-Philippe Julien, a senior research associate in the Wilson laboratory, determined the 3D atomic structure of the designed immunogen using X-ray crystallography — and, in an unusual feat, also determined the crystal structure of a germline VRC01 antibody, plus the structure of the immunogen and antibody bound together.
“We wanted to know whether eOD-GT6 looked the way we anticipated and whether it bound to the antibody in the way that we predicted — and in both cases the answer was ‘yes’,” said Julien. “We also were able to identify the key mutations that conferred its reactivity with germline VRC01 antibodies.”
Mimicking a Virus
Vaccine researchers know that such an immunogen typically does better at stimulating an antibody response when it is presented not as a single copy but in a closely spaced cluster of multiple copies, and with only its antibody-binding end exposed. “We wanted it to look like a virus,” said Sergey Menis, a visiting graduate student in the Schief laboratory.
Menis therefore devised a tiny virus-mimicking particle made from 60 copies of an obscure bacterial enzyme and coated it with 60 copies of eOD-GT6. The particle worked well at activating VRC01 germline B cells and even mature B cells in the lab dish, whereas single-copy eOD-GT6 did not.
“Essentially it’s a self-assembling nanoparticle that presents the immunogen in a properly oriented way,” Menis said. “We’re hoping that this approach can be used not just for an HIV vaccine but for many other vaccines, too.”
The next step for the eOD-GT6 immunogen project, said Schief, is to test its ability to stimulate an antibody response in lab animals that are themselves engineered to produce human germline antibodies. The difficulty with testing immunogens that target human germline antibodies is that animals typically used for vaccine testing cannot make those same antibodies. So the team is collaborating with other researchers who are engineering mice to produce human germline antibodies. After that, he hopes to learn how to drive the response, from the activation of the germline B cells all the way to the production of mature, broadly neutralizing VRC01-class antibodies, using a series of designed immunogens.
Schief also hopes they will be able to test their germline-targeting approach in humans sooner rather than later, noting “it will be really important to find out if this works in a human being.”
The first authors of the paper, “Rational HIV immunogen design to target specific germline B cell receptors,” were Jardine, Julien and Menis. Co-authors were Takayuki Ota and Devin Sok of the Nemazee and Burton laboratories at TSRI, respectively; Travis Nieusma of the Ward laboratory at TSRI; John Mathison of the Ulevitch laboratory at TSRI; Oleksandr Kalyuzhniy and Skye MacPherson, researchers in the Schief laboratory from IAVI and TSRI, respectively; Po-Ssu Huang and David Baker of the University of Washington, Seattle; Andrew McGuire and Leonidas Stamatatos of the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute; and TSRI principal investigators Andrew B. Ward, David Nemazee, Ian A. Wilson, and Dennis R. Burton, who is also head of the IAVI Neutralizing Center at TSRI.
Joseph Jardine, Jean-Philippe Julien, Sergey Menis, Takayuki Ota, Oleksandr Kalyuzhniy, Andrew McGuire, Devin Sok, Po-Ssu Huang, Skye MacPherson, Meaghan Jones, Travis Nieusma, John Mathison, David Baker, Andrew B. Ward, Dennis R. Burton, Leonidas Stamatatos, David Nemazee, Ian A. Wilson, and William R. Schief. Rational HIV Immunogen Design to Target Specific Germline B Cell Receptors. Science, 28 March 2013 DOI: 10.1126/science.1234150
A swine flu vaccine used in 2009-10 is linked to a higher risk of the sleeping disorder narcolepsy in children and teens in Sweden and Finland, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said Friday.
The EU agency studied the effects of the Pandemrix vaccine on children in eight European countries after Sweden and Finland reported higher incidences of narcolepsy among children who were inoculated with the vaccine during the swine flu pandemic in 2009 and 2010.
“The case-control study found an association between vaccination with Pandemrix and an increased risk of narcolepsy in children and adolescents (five to 19 years of age) in Sweden and Finland,” the ECDC said.
“The overall number of new cases of narcolepsy being reported after September 2009 was much higher in Sweden and Finland … compared with the other countries participating in the study,” it said.
In the six other countries—Britain, Denmark, France, Italy, The Netherlands and Norway—no link was found based on a strict statistical analysis, which tried to address media bias.
However, other confirmatory analyses did identify an increased risk, the report said.
The report included several recommendations for further study to try to distinguish between true vaccine effects and media attention.
An ECDC spokesman said that while the study did not quantify the increased risk compared with non-vaccination, national studies showed the risk of developing narcolepsy after taking Pandemrix, which is produced by British drug company GlaxoSmithKline, was around one in 20,000 for children and adolescents.
Narcolepsy is a chronic nervous system disorder that causes excessive drowsiness, often causing people to fall asleep uncontrollably, and in more severe cases to suffer hallucinations or paralysing physical collapses called cataplexy.
In Finland, 79 children aged four to 19 developed narcolepsy after receiving the Pandemrix vaccine in 2009 and 2010, while in Sweden the number was close to 200, according to figures in the two countries.
Both countries recommended their populations, of around five and 10 million respectively, to take part in mass vaccinations during the swine flu scare. Pandemrix was the only vaccine used in both countries.
Meanwhile, a recent study in the medical journal The Lancet said that between five and 17 people in Finland aged 0-17 are estimated to have died as a direct result of the 2009-10 swine flu pandemic, while the same number for Sweden was nine to 31.
In the past year, the Finnish and Swedish governments have both agreed to provide financial compensation for the affected children after their own national research showed a link between the inoculation and narcolepsy.
The above story is reprinted from MedicalXpress.
Ebola virus, the cause of Ebola hemorrhagic fever (EHF), is one of the deadliest known viruses affecting humans. Like anthrax and smallpox virus, Ebola virus is classified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a category A bioterrorism agent. Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent EHF, and patients are treated only for their symptoms.Although outbreaks are rare, Ebola virus, the cause of Ebola hemorrhagic fever (EHF), is one of the deadliest known viruses affecting humans. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 1,850 EHF cases with more than 1,200 deaths have been documented since the virus was identified in 1976.
This negatively-stained transmission electron micrograph (TEM) revealed some of the ultrastructural curvilinear morphologic features displayed by the Ebola virus discovered from the Ivory Coast of Africa. (Credit: Charles Humphrey). (up)
EHF’s clinical presentation can be devastating: fever, intense weakness, and joint and muscle aches progress to diarrhea, vomiting, and in some cases, internal and external bleeding caused by disintegrating blood vessels. Currently, there is no approved vaccine and patients are treated only for their symptoms. Like anthrax and smallpox virus, Ebola virus is classified as a category A bioterrorism agent by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Until now, however, researchers had only a limited understanding of how Ebola virus gains entry to a host cell.
Using an unusual human cell line, Whitehead Institute scientists and collaborators from Harvard Medical School, Albert Einstein College of Medicine and U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, have identified the Niemann-Pick C1 (NPC1) protein as crucial for Ebola virus to enter cells and begin replicating. The discovery may offer a new and better approach for the development of antiviral therapeutics, as it would target a structure in the host cell rather than a viral component.
The findings are reported online in Nature this week.
Where all of us inherit one copy of each chromosome from each of our two parents, cell lines exist with only a single set, and thus with a single copy of each individual gene, instead of the usual two. Using an unusual human cell line of this type, Whitehead Institute researchers and their collaborators performed a genetic screen and identified a protein used by Ebola virus to gain entry into cells and begin replicating. The discovery may offer a new approach for the development of antiviral therapeutics.
“Right now, people make therapeutics to inactivate the pathogen itself. But the problem is that pathogens can quickly change and escape detection and elimination by the immune system,” says former Whitehead Fellow Thijn Brummelkamp, now a group leader at the Netherlands Cancer Institute (NKI). “Here we get a good idea of the host genes that are needed for the pathogen to enter the cell for replication. Perhaps by generating therapeutics against those host factors, we would have a more stable target for antiviral drugs.”
The method developed by the Brummelkamp lab to identify host factors relies on gene disruption — knocking out gene function in the host cells, one gene at a time — and documenting which cells survive due to mutations that afford protection from viral entry.
But human cells are diploid with two copies of each chromosome and its genes. Researchers can reliably target and knock out one copy of a gene, but doing so for both copies is far more difficult and time-consuming. If only a single copy is silenced, the other continues to function normally and masks any effect of the knockout.
To sidestep this obstacle, Jan Carette, a first co-author on the Nature paper and a former postdoctoral researcher in the Brummelkamp lab, employed a technique he had previously applied to study the cytolethal distending toxin (CDT) family that is secreted by multiple pathogenic bacteria, including Escherichia coli, Shigella dysenteriae, and Haemophilus ducreyi. Each bacterial species has developed its own twists on the CDT structure, which may link to the target tissues of the toxin’s bacterium.
In his CDT work published in Nature Biotechnology, Carette together with co-lead authors of Whitehead Member Hidde Ploegh’s lab, used a line of haploid cells isolated from a chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) patient. Because these cells, called KBM7 cells, have only one copy of each chromosome except chromosome 8, the researchers could disrupt the expression of each gene and screen for mutants with the desired properties, in this case survival of a lethal dose of toxin.
After knocking out individual genes by disrupting the normal structure of the gene, the resulting mutant KBM7 cells were exposed to various CDTs. In the cells that survived, Carette and coauthors knew that genes that had been disrupted were somehow crucial to CDT intoxication. By analyzing the surviving cell’s genomes, Carette and coauthors identified ten human proteins that are used by CDTs during intoxication, and those host factors seem to be tailored to each CDT’s targeted cell.
“I found it surprising that there is quite some specificity in the entry routes for each toxin,” says Carette. “If you take CDTs that are very similar to each other in structure, you could still see significant differences in the host factors they require to do their job. So it seems that every pathogen evolved a specific and unique way of its toxin entering the cells.”
To study Ebola virus, Carette and co-lead authors from Harvard Medical School and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine made use of an otherwise harmless virus cloaked in the Ebola virus glycoprotein coat. Using this virus and by altering the haploid cells somewhat, Carette and coauthors were able to pinpoint the cellular genes that Ebola virus relies on to enter the cell.
Carette and coauthors identified as necessary for Ebola virus entry several genes involved in organelles that transport and recycle proteins. One gene in particular stood out, NPC1, which codes for a cholesterol transport protein, and is necessary for the virus to enter the cell’s cytoplasm for replication. Mutations in this gene cause a form of Niemann-Pick disease, an ultimately fatal neurological disorder diagnosed mainly in children.
Collaborators at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) tested the effects of active Ebola virus on mice that had one copy of the NPC1 gene knocked out. Control mice, with two functioning copies of the NPC1 gene, quickly succumbed to infection, while the NPC1 knockout mice were largely protected from the virus.
“This is pretty unexpected,” says Carette, who is currently an Acting Assistant Professor in Microbiology & Immunology at Stanford School of Medicine. “This might imply that genetic mutations in the NPC1 gene in humans could make some people resistant to this very deadly virus. And now that we know that NPC1 is an Ebola virus host factor, it provides a strong platform from which to start developing new antivirals.”
This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the U.S. Army, Boehringer Ingelheim Fonds and a Burroughs Wellcome Award.
- Jan E. Carette, Matthijs Raaben, Anthony C. Wong, Andrew S. Herbert, Gregor Obernosterer, Nirupama Mulherkar, Ana I. Kuehne, Philip J. Kranzusch, April M. Griffin, Gordon Ruthel, Paola Dal Cin, John M. Dye, Sean P. Whelan, Kartik Chandran, Thijn R. Brummelkamp. Ebola virus entry requires the cholesterol transporter Niemann–Pick C1. Nature, 2011; DOI: 10.1038/nature10348
- Jan E Carette, Carla P Guimaraes, Irene Wuethrich, Vincent A Blomen, Malini Varadarajan, Chong Sun, George Bell, Bingbing Yuan, Markus K Muellner, Sebastian M Nijman, Hidde L Ploegh, Thijn R Brummelkamp. Global gene disruption in human cells to assign genes to phenotypes by deep sequencing. Nature Biotechnology, 2011; 29 (6): 542 DOI: 10.1038/nbt.1857
Biologists at the University of California, San Diego have succeeded in engineering algae to produce potential candidates for a vaccine that would prevent transmission of the parasite that causes malaria, an achievement that could pave the way for the development of an inexpensive way to protect billions of people from one of the world’s most prevalent and debilitating diseases. Initial proof-of-principle experiments suggest that such a vaccine could prevent malaria transmission.
(up) The edible algae Chlamydomonas, seen here at UC San Diego, can be grown in ponds anywhere in the world. (Credit: SD-CAB)
Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease caused by infection with protozoan parasites from the genus Plasmodium. It affects more than 225 million people worldwide in tropical and subtropical regions, resulting in fever, headaches and in severe cases coma and death. While a variety of often costly antimalarial medications are available to travelers in those regions to protect against infections, a vaccine offering a high level of protection from the disease does not yet exist.
The use of algae to produce malaria proteins that elicited antibodies against Plasmodium falciparum in laboratory mice and prevented malaria transmission was published May 16 in the online, open-access journal PLoS ONE. The development resulted from an unusual interdisciplinary collaboration between two groups of biologists at UC San Diego — one from the Division of Biological Sciences and San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology, which had been engineering algae to produce bio-products and biofuels, and another from the Center for Tropical Medicine and Emerging Infectious Diseases in the School of Medicine that is working to develop ways to diagnose, prevent and treat malaria.
Part of the difficulty in creating a vaccine against malaria is that it requires a system that can produce complex, three-dimensional proteins that resemble those made by the parasite, thus eliciting antibodies that disrupt malaria transmission. Most vaccines created by engineered bacteria are relatively simple proteins that stimulate the body’s immune system to produce antibodies against bacterial invaders. More complex proteins can be produced, but this requires an expensive process using mammalian cell cultures, and the proteins those cells produce are coated with sugars due to a chemical process called glycosylation.
“Malaria is caused by a parasite that makes complex proteins, but for whatever reason this parasite doesn’t put sugars on those proteins,” said Stephen Mayfield, a professor of biology at UC San Diego who headed the research effort. “If you have a protein covered with sugars and you inject it into somebody as a vaccine, the tendency is to make antibodies against the sugars, not the amino acid backbone of the protein from the invading organism you want to inhibit. Researchers have made vaccines without these sugars in bacteria and then tried to refold them into the correct three-dimensional configuration, but that’s an expensive proposition and it doesn’t work very well.”
Instead, the biologists looked to produce their proteins with the help of an edible green alga, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, used widely in research laboratories as a genetic model organism, much like the fruit fly Drosophila and the bacterium E. coli. Two years ago, a UC San Diego team of biologists headed by Mayfield, who is also the director of the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology, a research consortium seeking to develop transportation fuels from algae, published a landmark study demonstrating that many complex human therapeutic proteins, such as monoclonal antibodies and growth hormones, could be produced by Chlamydomonas.
That got James Gregory, a postdoctoral researcher in Mayfield’s laboratory, wondering if a complex protein to protect against the malarial parasite could also be produced by Chlamydomonas. Two billion people live in regions where malaria is present, making the delivery of a malarial vaccine a costly and logistically difficult proposition, especially when that vaccine is expensive to produce. So the UC San Diego biologists set out to determine if this alga, an organism that can produce complex proteins very cheaply, could produce malaria proteins that would inhibit infections from malaria.
“It’s too costly to vaccinate two billion people using current technologies,” explained Mayfield. “Realistically, the only way a malaria vaccine will ever be used is if it can be produced at a fraction of the cost of current vaccines. Algae have this potential because you can grow algae any place on the planet in ponds or even in bathtubs.”
Collaborating with Joseph Vinetz, a professor of medicine at UC San Diego and a leading expert in tropical diseases who has been working on developing vaccines against malaria, the researchers showed that the proteins produced by the algae, when injected into laboratory mice, made antibodies that blocked malaria transmission from mosquitoes.
“It’s hard to say if these proteins are perfect, but the antibodies to our algae-produced protein recognize the native proteins in malaria and, inside the mosquito, block the development of the malaria parasite so that the mosquito can’t transmit the disease,” said Gregory.
“This paper tells us two things: The proteins that we made here are viable vaccine candidates and that we at least have the opportunity to produce enough of this vaccine that we can think about inoculating two billion people,” said Mayfield. “In no other system could you even begin to think about that.”
The scientists, who filed a patent application on their discovery, said the next steps are to see if these algae proteins work to protect humans from malaria and then to determine if they can modify the proteins to elicit the same antibody response when the algae are eaten rather than injected.
Other UC San Diego scientists involved in the discovery were Fengwu Li from Vinetz’s laboratory and biologists Lauren Tomosada, Chesa Cox and Aaron Topol from Mayfield’s group. The basic technology that led to the development was supported by the Skaggs family. The research was supported by grants from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the San Diego Foundation. The California Energy Commission supported work on recombinant protein production for biofuels use, and this technology helped enabled these studies.
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.
Gregory JA, Li F, Tomosada LM, Cox CJ, Topol AB, et al.Algae-Produced Pfs25 Elicits Antibodies That Inhibit Malaria Transmission. PLoS ONE, 2012 DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0037179
One of the most vexing challenges in the battle against dengue virus, a mosquito-borne virus responsible for 50-100 million infections every year, is that getting infected once can put people at greater risk for a more severe infection down the road.
The cluster of dark dots near the center of this micrograph shows dengue virus particles. (Credit: CDC)
Now, for the first time, an international team of researchers that includes experts from the University of California, Berkeley, has pulled apart the mechanism behind changing dengue virus genetics and dynamics of host immunity, and they are reporting their findings in the Dec. 21 issue of Science Translational Medicine.
The virus that causes dengue disease is divided into four closely related serotypes (dengue virus 1, 2, 3 and 4), and those serotypes can be further divided into genetic variants, or subtypes.
The researchers showed that a person’s prior immune response to one serotype of dengue virus could influence the interaction with virus subtypes in a subsequent infection. How that interaction plays out could mean the difference between getting a mild fever and going into a fatal circulatory failure from dengue hemorrhagic fever or dengue shock syndrome.
The findings have implications for the efforts to combat a disease that has grown dramatically in recent decades, including the development of a first-ever dengue vaccine.
According to the World Health Organization, dengue disease is now endemic in more than 100 countries around the world, and recent estimates say some 3 billion people — almost half of the world’s population — are at risk.
It was already known that upon a person’s first infection with dengue virus, the immune system reacts normally by creating antibodies to fight the viral invaders. The problem is that those antibodies can then be confused if confronted later with one of the other three types of dengue virus, and as this new study revealed, even different subtypes within the same serotype.
“With the second infection, the antibodies sort of recognize the new type of viruses, but not well enough to clear them from the system,” said study lead author Molly OhAinle, post-doctoral fellow in infectious diseases at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health. “Instead of neutralizing the viruses, the antibodies bind to them in a way that actually helps them invade the immune system’s other cells and spread.”
The study authors noted that this Trojan horse effect has been shown before, but the new research provides an analysis of the interplay between viral genetics and immune response with unprecedented detail, going beyond the main serotype.
Putting the puzzle pieces together required UC Berkeley’s expertise in immunology and virology, the genome analysis and biostatistical capabilities at the Broad Institute of Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the epidemiological and clinical field work at Nicaragua’s National Virology Laboratory.
Researchers used data from two independent, Nicaragua-based studies headed by Eva Harris, professor of infectious diseases and vaccinology and director of UC Berkeley’s Center for Global Public Health, and Dr. Angel Balmaseda, director of the National Virology Laboratory in Nicaragua. One was a hospital-based study that examined children admitted to the National Pediatric Reference hospital with dengue between 2005 and 2009. The other was a prospective study that had followed 3,800 children since 2004, with blood samples collected annually.
By following dengue cases in both studies, researchers were able to identify a dramatic increase in severe dengue disease and then sequence the virus across time. They detected genetic changes in the virus that coincided with changes in disease severity, but only in the context of pre-existing immune response to specific dengue virus serotypes.
They found that children who had antibodies to dengue virus 3, which circulated in the region from 1994-1998, were at greater risk for developing severe infections when exposed to subtype 2B of dengue virus 2. They also found that children who had antibodies to dengue virus 1, which circulated from 2002-2005, were also at increased risk of severe disease from exposure to subtype 1 of dengue virus 2 after an initial period of immunity wore off.
“We showed for dengue that both the subtype of virus you get infected with and whether your body has antibodies to another type of virus matter,” said Matthew Henn, director of viral genomics at the Broad Institute. “If you get the wrong combination of the two, you are more likely to get severe disease. This study provides a framework we can utilize to eventually predict which specific virus types will proliferate in different human populations. We lacked a good model for this previously.”
The researchers followed up with tests in the lab to confirm the complex interplay of viral genetics and immune system response.
Harris understands this risk on a personal level. She has been studying dengue in Nicaragua for 24 years, and in 1995, became infected with dengue virus type 3. That puts her at greater risk for a severe reaction should she become exposed to other dengue virus serotypes.
While no vaccine yet exists for dengue, Harris noted that the vaccines currently under development aim to immunize against all types of the virus.
“Our findings have implications for vaccine development and implementation, as the precise genetics of vaccine strains, as well as the timing and serotype sequence of infection prior to and after vaccination, play an important role in determining the outcome of infection,” she said.
Harris added that this study benefited from decades of productive collaboration between U.S. and Nicaraguan researchers. “It was the multi-disciplinary approach we took to analyzing two high-quality studies that allowed us to untangle this very complex phenomenon,” she said.
Funding from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Pediatric Dengue Vaccine Initiative provided support for this research.
M. OhAinle, A. Balmaseda, A. R. Macalalad, Y. Tellez, M. C. Zody, S. Saborio, A. Nunez, N. J. Lennon, B. W. Birren, A. Gordon, M. R. Henn, E. Harris. Dynamics of Dengue Disease Severity Determined by the Interplay Between Viral Genetics and Serotype-Specific Immunity.Science Translational Medicine, 2011; 3 (114): 114ra128 DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3003084
The same menace that spreads malaria — the mosquito bite — could help wipe out the deadly disease, according to researchers working on a new vaccine at Tulane University.
(left) Nirbhay Kumar, professor of tropical medicine at Tulane University, is working on a vaccine that aims to wipe out malaria using the same menace that spreads it — the mosquito bite. (Credit: Image courtesy of Tulane University)
The PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI), established in 1999 through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, announced February 15 a collaboration with Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and India’s Gennova Biopharmaceuticals Ltd. to produce and test a novel vaccine that aims to inoculate mosquitoes when they bite people.
The vaccine would work by triggering an immune response in people so they produce antibodies that target a protein the malaria parasite needs to reproduce within a mosquito.
Malaria, which kills nearly 800,000 people every year worldwide, is caused by a microscopic parasite that alternates between human and mosquito hosts at various stages of its lifecycle. Once a mosquito bites a vaccinated person, the antibodies would neutralize the protein essential for malaria parasite’s reproduction, effectively blocking the parasite’s — and the mosquito’s — ability to infect others.
The vaccine relies on a protein — known as Pfs48/45 — which is very difficult to synthetically produce, says Nirbhay Kumar, professor of tropical medicine at Tulane.
“With MVI’s support we can now work with Gennova to produce sufficient quantity of the protein and develop a variety of vaccine formulations that can be tested in animals to determine which one give us the strongest immune response,” Kumar says.
Such transmission blocking vaccines, though not yet widely tested in humans, are attracting widespread interest due to their potential to be used in conjunction with more traditional malaria vaccines and other interventions — such as malaria drugs and bed nets — to make gradual elimination and even eradication of the disease a reality.
“We’re investing in developing transmission blocking malaria vaccines to support two long-term goals: introducing an 80 percent efficacious malaria vaccine by the year 2025 and eventually eradicating malaria altogether,” says Dr. Christian Loucq, director of MVI. “A vaccine that breaks the cycle of malaria transmission will be important to our success.”
The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by Tulane University.