Oral hookworm vaccine proves effective in mice


Thursday, 11 November, 2021

Oral hookworm vaccine proves effective in mice

Researchers from The University of Queensland (UQ) and James Cook University have made a significant breakthrough in their development of an oral vaccine to prevent hookworm infection — a parasite which causes serious disease in tens of millions of people globally.

Hookworm lives within the human intestine, using the host’s blood as its source of nourishment, digested through a special set of enzymes. It is often found in regions with poor water quality, sanitation and hygiene — greatly impacting on the physical and cognitive development of children and increasing the risk of mortality and miscarriage.

As explained by UQ’s Dr Mariusz Skwarczynski, the new vaccine targets the hookworm’s digestion enzyme (APR 1). “When the function of these enzymes is blocked, the parasite starves,” Dr Skwarczynski said.

“Our vaccine produces antibodies against the hookworm enzymes responsible for the digestion of blood — they simply stop being able to eat properly.”

Professor Istvan Toth, also from UQ, said the ease with which the vaccine could be administered — via tablet, liquid or powder — would be a game changer for developing countries.

“Our vaccine candidate can be orally self-administered, bypassing the need for trained medical staff, and means there’s no requirement for special storage, enabling it to reach large, isolated populations,” Prof Toth said.

“Vaccination can be carried out at a significantly reduced cost, which not only improves the health of those affected and at high risk, but also helps improve economic growth in disease-endemic areas.”

Trials of the vaccine candidate in mice indicate that it is more than twice as effective as existing alternatives, which only achieved a 30–50% reduction in the number of worms. These results, published in the journal Vaccines, thus mark a leap forward in the battle against the highly contagious parasite.

“The UQ-developed vaccine resulted in an impressive 94% worm reduction in mice,” Prof Toth said.

“So not only is our new vaccine candidate easier to deliver, it triggers a staggeringly good immune response.”

The researchers plan to continue working on and refining the vaccine candidate in preclinical development settings, to ensure its safety and efficacy, before beginning human clinical trials.

“We’re very optimistic that … we will be able to deliver a successful vaccine that stops this parasite in its tracks,” Dr Skwarczynski said.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Kateryna_Kon

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