Vaccine developed to target TB in the lungs
Medical researchers from the Centenary Institute and the University of Sydney have successfully developed and tested a new type of vaccine targeting tuberculosis (TB), said to be the world’s top infectious disease killer. Reported in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, the early-stage vaccine was shown to provide substantial protection against TB in a preclinical laboratory setting.
There are an estimated two billion individuals carrying TB globally, up to 10% of whom will develop the disease in their lifetime. Co-lead author Dr Anneliese Ashhurst, who is affiliated with both the Centenary Institute and the University of Sydney, described TB as “a huge worldwide health problem … caused by a bacteria that infects the lungs after it’s inhaled, is contagious and results in approximately 1.6 million deaths per year globally”.
Following five years of research, Dr Ashhurst and her colleagues have now created an advanced synthetic TB vaccine and demonstrated its effectiveness using mouse models. Dr Ashhurst explained, “Two peptides (small proteins) which are normally found in tuberculosis bacteria were synthesised and then bound extremely tightly to an adjuvant (a stimulant) that was able to kickstart the immune response in the lungs.
“We were then able to show that when this vaccine was inhaled into the lungs, it stimulated the type of T cells known to protect against TB. Importantly, we then demonstrated that this type of vaccine could successfully protect against experimental airborne TB infection.”
Professor Warwick Britton, Head of the Centenary Institute Tuberculosis Research Program and co-senior researcher on the project, noted that there is currently only one lone vaccine for TB (known as BCG) and this is only effective in reducing the risk of disease for infants.
“It fails to prevent infection or provide long-term protection in older individuals and it isn’t considered suitable for use in individuals with an impaired immune system,” Prof Britton said. “More effective vaccines are urgently required to save lives.”
Prof Britton is excited that the team’s vaccine strategy — directly generating immunity in the lungs — has proven to be the right research approach to take, noting, “The important thing is that the vaccine actually gets to the lungs, because that’s where you first see TB.
“Ultimately, we would love to see a form of this vaccine available for use in an easily inhaled nasal spray which would provide lifelong TB protection. Although this outcome is still many years away, we are certainly heading in the right direction. Our next steps will be to determine if our synthetic vaccine can be developed into a form suitable for use in humans.”
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