Researchers developing more powerful versatile vaccine

October 22nd, 2008 - 3:21 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Oct 22 (IANS) A versatile vaccine that would treat a broad spectrum of maladies, including 2,500 strains of salmonella, and protect the elderly may be possible in the not-too-distant future. University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) scientists Douglas Heithoff and Michael Mahan — along with their Utah University counterparts Elena Enioutina, Diana Bareyan and Raymond Daynes detailed the path to creating a vaccine that confers protection against multiple strains of bacteria.

The team focused on developing a vaccine against Salmonella, which causes food and blood poisoning — with over 1.5 million cases in the US each year. “It’s endemic worldwide,” Mahan said. “It’s not a carnivore issue — it’s everybody’s issue since fruits and vegetables are often the source of infection.”

By disarming a “genetic switch,” the research team has developed a vaccine that protects against many strains of Salmonella. The new vaccine stimulates the production of antibodies and immune cells that work together to kill bacteria.

“Vaccines are great,” Mahan said. “Second to water sanitation, they are the best medical invention of mankind.” The problem with conventional vaccines is that they only protect against a limited number of closely related strains.

“That is why flu vaccines need to be administered every year because different flu strains arise every year,” Mahan said. This is what prompted the researchers to begin their quest for a more powerful vaccine that conferred protection against many strains.

Also, the vaccine does not induce a specific class of inhibitory immune cells that are known to contribute to immune declines in cancer patients. This lack of “immune suppression” is an advantage of the new vaccine over conventional vaccines, said a UCSB release.

The researchers also showed a link between the immune declines observed in cancer patients and those occurring as part of the normal aging process. “This may explain why the elderly are more susceptible to infection and why they are more difficult to effectively vaccinate,” Mahan said.

These findings are to be published in the November edition of Infection.

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