Gates Foundation funds tapeworm vaccine

Thursday, 10 December, 2015

A University of Melbourne research team will use a US$200,000 ($272,000) grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a one-shot vaccine for Taenia solium.

T. solium is a worm parasite that is transmitted between humans and pigs and causes neurocysticercosis, or brain cysts, in human hosts. It is the cause of an estimated 50,000 deaths each year, most prevalent in developing countries across Africa, China, Central and South America and South-East Asia, where hygiene standards are lax and unregulated.

“[The parasite] is the most frequent cause of late-onset seizures and epilepsy in the developing world,” said Professor Marshall Lightowlers, the principal investigator on the University of Melbourne study.

The T. solium parasite and neurocysticercosis were once endemic throughout Europe and other developed parts of the world, but improved public sanitation and other measures saw it eventually eliminated. But first-world countries are still not immune to the effects.

“Keep in mind that people from poor countries can travel anywhere with their intestinal residents and deliver their tapeworm eggs to you or me,” said Professor Lightowlers.

“So it is vital in the global sense to see a reduction in the parasite’s transmission.”

The University of Melbourne has already developed a vaccine for use in pigs against infection from T. solium, which is on the brink of becoming commercially available as of next year. But to be successful, the vaccine requires two immunisations — a near-to-impossible feat in countries where pig communities are free-roaming and not closely monitored.

The team will therefore use the Gates Foundation grant to assist with the development of a one-shot vaccine. The university will collaborate with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which will test vaccine formulations and forward them on to The University of Melbourne for clinical trials.

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