In an interesting way of using one virus to combat another, scientists at the John Innes Centre in Norfolk, England, “hijacked” a relative of the tobacco plant, and used its own metabolism to turn its leaves into the leafy equivalent of polio vaccine factories. The end result is a virus that looks and acts like the polio virus, but technically isn’t; it has everything needed to train the body’s immune system, but nothing that can pass on the polio virus — which can cause an infected person to eventually become paralyzed or suffer from meningitis.
Scientists began this process by taking the genetic code used to make the outer layer of the polio virus, and combining it with material from various other virus known to effectively infect plants. From there, the resulting combination was inserted into soil bacteria, which then went on to infect tobacco. After the infection took hold, the plants responded to the newly made genetic code and began making the virus-like particles that would later be extracted.
When used in preliminary animal tests, the particles completed prevented polio from occurring.
Speaking to BBC News, John Innes Professor George Lomonossoff called the particles “incredibly good mimics.”
Around three quarters of HPV infections are caused by just two of the nearly 200 strains of the virus: HPV 16 and HPV 18. Gardasil, the quadrivalent HPV vaccine that’s currently approved for use in Australia, protects against both of these forms.
During their study, which is published in the International Journal of Cancer, the researchers found that 77 percent of the 847 cervical cancer samples tested were caused by HPV 16 and 18. A further 16 percent were linked to HPV 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58. Gardasil 9, an HPV vaccine that was approved for use in the U.S. in 2014, protects against all seven of these strains.
Stamping Out Cancer
Based on these numbers, the researchers believe the Gardasil 9 vaccine could prevent up to 93 percent of cervical cancer cases.
“The new vaccine still protects against genital warts but is expanded to cover the seven most common viral types that cause cervical cancer,” said the senior author of the paper, Professor Suzanne Garland, in a Royal Women’s Hospital news release. “I do believe that if we continue with this high coverage of vaccination, we could almost wipe out cervical cancer in women.”
With the promising results of the study in hand, the next step is to ensure that as many people as possible have access to the Gardasil 9 vaccine. The Royal Women’s Hospital is hopeful that it will be adopted by Australia’s National HPV Vaccination Program as early as 2018.
Of course, to remove the threat of HPV causing cervical cancer completely, a vaccine would have to protect against the less common strains of HPV that comprise the remaining 7 percent of cases covered by this study. It remains to be seen how feasible that would be, but the extra coverage achieved by Gardasil 9 is definitely a big step forward.
By the year 2050, it’s anticipated that in the U.S. alone, 5 million people will be diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes (T1D). This autoimmune disease, which affects children and adults, is currently unable to be prevented or cured. In order to manage T1D, people with the condition must constantly monitor their blood glucose levels, and manage those levels through insulin injection, activity, and diet in order to avoid life-threatening complications.
It has been suggested, for quite some time now, that T1D could be related to viral infection, which has lead some to propose the possibility of creating a vaccine for the disease. In Finland, researchers have been exploring this connection and potential vaccine for approximately 25 years. After such a laborious scientific journey, they believe they’ve found the viral group that can trigger T1D. The hard work seems to have paid off — as the team has created a prototype vaccine which will move into human clinical trials by 2018.
The Future of T1D
While it’s unlikely that the vaccine would become an immediate cure-all T1D, if the trials prove successful, it will dramatically shift the future of the disease. Up until this point, patients with T1D have been required to vigilantly self-manage. Complications of the disease, which can result when it goes undiagnosed or is ineffectively managed, can range from heart attack to stroke, amputation, kidney failure, and even blindness.
The threat of these complications constantly hangs over the heads of those with T1D. Unfortunately, as the team notes, this vaccine would not be a cure for T1D, but if it proves successful in preventing the onset of the condition, it could change the lives of millions of people around the world.
Cancer comes in all shapes and sizes. It can affect any and every part of the human body in a variety of potentially debilitating — and even life-threatening — ways. So, while the vaccines developed as part of two recent studies published in the journal Naturecould lead to a whole new age of groundbreaking cancer therapies and treatments, they are by no means a “cure” for all the different forms of cancer.
Even still, these new vaccines are remarkable. While these vaccines are new, cancer vaccines in general are not. The researchers explored the possibility of creating vaccines personalized to an individual’s unique cancer mutations in order to combat tumors. The two clinical trials run thus far were small: in them, the researchers attempted to design individual vaccines in hopes they would give the patient the ability to fight off tumors in a way optimized for their biology. These studies also briefly noted the potential to combine such vaccines with existing immunotherapies to give the body an increased chance of combatting a cancer’s spread.
In a basic sense, these vaccines are cancer cells combined with immune system stimulating agents. It’s not unlike how flu vaccines combine virus with ingredients designed to ignite a particular immune response. The research team in these trials hoped the vaccines would enable the patient’s immune system to attack the cancer cells.
In the first of two clinical trials, 4 out of the 6 patients hadn’t seen their tumors return. The remaining 2 eventually went into complete remission with additional treatment. In the second trial, 8 out of 13 total patients remained tumor free more than a year after the study. In the remaining 5, their tumors had spread already by the time they received the vaccine — but two of their tumors did shrink. Another 5 went into complete remission after receiving additional treatment.
According to Cornelis Melief, a cancer immunologist at Leiden University Medical Centre in the Netherlands who authored a commentary on the study, “It’s potentially a game changer…The two papers really strongly indicate that the patients experienced clinical benefit.”
The Future of Treatment
As previously stated, only two small clinical trials have been completed so far. These personalized vaccines might seem like our greatest weapon yet in battling tumors, but these studies are just the beginning. While the results seem promising — and certainly very exciting — they are not a direct indicator for success. Additional research and trials will need to be conducted before the idea of cancer vaccines could be implemented on a larger scale.
However, if the direction of these studies continues to trend in this way, cancer treatment could be forever changed. Not only would the vaccine be capable of being personalized and specified for an individual’s biology and specific mutations, it could be tailored for the type of cancer as well. And, the more we can individualize treatment, it seems, the better chance we will have of giving every cancer patient the very best shot at remission.
A new Ebola vaccine is on the horizon. Researchers at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) recently took a sample of 349 antibodies from an Ebola survivor and were able to isolate 2 of these that have been shown to effectively neutralize the deadly virus. This incredible breakthrough will likely lead to a highly effective vaccine that could be widely accessible in the near future.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is now one step closer to achieving their goal of eliminating malaria by 2040. Last week, WHO announced that one of several potential malaria vaccines in development has made it through a crucial phase in trials and is now ready to be field tested.
In Phase 3 trials, the vaccine decreased mortality rates in 11,000 children in Sub-Sahara Africa by 50 percent, according to WHO data. The vaccine aims to protect against the most virulent form of malaria, caused by Plasmodium falciparum. It’s technically named RTS,S but will be more commonly referred to as Mosquirix. Starting next year, the vaccine will be administered to over 120,000 children between the ages of 5 and 17 months living in three African nations: Kenya, Ghana, and Malwai.
Thanks to worldwide educational efforts, in conjunction with advances and improvements in mosquito control and preventative medicine, the rate of deaths from malaria worldwide decreased by 60 percent from 2000-2015. The WHO intends on testing the vaccine alongside the preexisting preventative measures, like mosquito nets.
While the vaccine is promising, there are still many challenges that must be addressed if the disease is to be fully eliminated in the coming decades. Access is still a major barrier in many parts of the world, where the availability of mosquito nets may be limited, clean water is scarce, and children may not be able to travel to clinics for vaccine administration. The latter is of particular interest to researchers, as Mosquirix currently requires multiple doses (or “boosters”). Earlier results indicated that the vaccine may not effectively prevent malaria, but rather, delays its onset. Due to that revelation, researchers added a fourth dose to the dosing schedule. But, until the field testing begins next year, the world will have to wait to know if we really are getting close to eradicating malaria once and for all.
Cancer comes in many different forms, and it is not unusual for diagnosed patients to endure multiple kinds of treatments before one that is effective against their particular form of cancer is found. If it takes too long for doctors to find the right treatment, the consequences can be fatal.
While earlier cancer vaccines targeted a singular cancer protein found ubiquitously among patients, these personalized vaccines contain neoantigens, which are mutated proteins specific to an individual patient’s tumor. These neoantigens are identified once a patient’s tumor is genomically sequenced, providing physicians with the information they need to pinpoint unique mutations. Once a patient’s immune system is provided a dose of the tumor neoantigens, it can activate the patient’s T cells to attack cancer cells.
Neoantigens To The Rescue
Unlike previous attempts towards cancer vaccines, which did not produce conclusive evidence in halting cancer growth, Wu’s team made their personal vaccine much more specific to each patient’s cancer, targeting about 20 neoantigens per patient. The vaccines were injected under the patients’ skin for a period of five months and indicated no side effects and a strong T cell response.
All of Wu’s patients who were administered the personal vaccine are still cancer-free more than 2.5 years after the trial. However, some patients with an advanced forms of cancer also needed an some extra punching power to fend off their diseases. Two of Wu’s patients who did relapse were administered an immunotherapy drug, PD-1 checkpoint inhibitor, in addition to the personalized vaccine. Working in conjunction with the enhanced T cell response from the vaccine, the drug makes it difficult for the tumor to evade the immune cells. The fusion of the two therapies eliminated the new tumors from both patients.
But we can’t get too excited yet. While these results are promising, the therapies are relatively new and require much more clinical testing. Many physicians around the world are working together to test the potency of neoantigens in order to verify if the vaccine works better than current immunotherapy drugs over a sustainable period of time. Personalized vaccines are costly and take months to create, a limiting factor in providing care to patients with progressing cancers.
Still, this study is an encouraging sign for many oncologists who are interested in using the immune system to fight cancer. More than a million new patients are diagnosed with cancer each year in the U.S. alone, and even in situations where the cancer is treatable, the available chemotherapy agents themselves can be very toxic. If proven safe and effective, this personalized cancer vaccine could give patients around the world hope for powerful treatment with fewer side effects.
Rotavirus is a disease common to developing countries, leaving over 200,000 children each year dead. The disease induces diarrhea, which leads to dehydration, and consequently death. While there have been rotavirus vaccines in the past, the oral vaccine developed by scientists is changing the game completely, especially in areas where it is needed most urgently.
Vaccines in sub-Saharan Africa normally need refrigeration, a difficult condition to satisfy when vaccines need to be transported hundreds of kilometers from village to village. Vaccines are active proteins and therefore do not perform at optimal temperatures if they are stored in an environment too cold or too warm. If this occurs, the vaccine’s structure may be compromised, affecting their potency. With the new BRV-PV vaccines, this is not an issue.
Vaccines without Borders
The BRV-PV vaccine can work in locations that are lacking in electricity or health clinics. The vaccine was freeze-dried by scientists at the Serum Institute of India by dipping it into liquid nitrogen and removing water with a vacuum. The dry powder residue left over is extremely durable and can be transported with ease. For use, a health worker can dissolve the powder in salt water and put a few drops on an infant’s tongue.
While the BRV-PV has yet to be approved by World Health Organization (WHO), it is well on its way. The vaccine was first tested in 2014 with 3,500 babies in Niger. After the children received three doses of the vaccine, severe cases of rotavirus were cut down by more than two-thirds.
Using the freeze-drying method on vaccines proved to be efficient, expansive, and importantly, cost effective. In the future, widespread implementation of these methods would break global health barriers rapidly.
Mosquitos are ugly creatures. They buzz, bite, and bother you, but more than just being annoying, they harbor parasites that transmit malaria. A person infected by one of these parasites via a mosquito bite can experience fever, chills, vomiting, and sometimes even death.
The World Health Organization predicts that almost 3.2 billion people — that’s half the world’s population — are at risk of catching this disease, and among those at risk, 214 million people were infected in 2015. Of those infected with malaria, at least 438,000 people passed away.
While global efforts have successfully reduced the incidences of malaria by 60 percent since 2000, researchers may have just found a way to take that progress even further thanks to a new malaria vaccine.
A New Way to Vaccinate
A malaria vaccine has been particularly elusive in the medical community because malaria originates from a parasite and not a virus. Therefore, a live but weakened form of the parasite that infects humans was used in the creation of this new investigational vaccine, Sanaria® PfSPZ. The weakened sporozoites parasite was developed by Sanaria Inc. through a clinical study conducted by researchers from the National Institute of Health’s (NIH)National Institute of Allergy and Infection Diseases (NIAID) division and the University of Bamako in Bamako, Mali.
Sanaria’s isn’t the only malaria vaccine in development. GSK’s malaria candidate vaccine, Mosquirix™, is expected to roll out to the public in 2018. While it’s not expected to be as successful as PfSPZ, it is further ahead in development as PfSPZ has only just cleared Phase II clinical trials. Until recently, we had no true preventative measures against malaria, and now we just may have more than enough.
Forty years after the first Ebola virus outbreak, it looks like we’ve finally developed a vaccine that provides a high degree of protection against this deadly hemorrhagic fever that kills an average of 50 percent of those who contract it.
Just yesterday, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed the results of a test of newly developed vaccine rVSV-ZEBOV. According their their findings published in the journal The Lancet, none of the nearly 6,000 individuals vaccinated with rVSV-ZEBOV in Guinea, a country with more than 3,000 confirmed cases of Ebola, showed any signs of contracting the disease.
“While these compelling results come too late for those who lost their lives during West Africa’s Ebola epidemic, they show that when the next Ebola outbreak hits, we will not be defenseless,” said WHO scientist and study author Marie-Paule Kieny in a press release.
The trials for the vaccine were conducted by Guinea’s Ministry of Health in tandem with the WHO’s R&D Blueprint, which was also behind its development.
“This both historical and innovative trial was made possible thanks to exemplary international collaboration and coordination, the contribution of many experts worldwide, and strong local involvement,” said chairman of the study pioneering group John-Arne Røttingen, Specialist Director at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.