A new vaccine could help prevent serious childhood illnesses | Action Medical Research

A new vaccine could help prevent serious childhood illnesses

27 July 2010

Researchers are working on a nasal spray which could provide a potential new vaccine against a bacterium which can cause meningitis and pneumonia, as well as other serious illnesses, after receiving funding from children’s health charity Action Medical Research.

Each year worldwide, up to one million children under five lose their lives to diseases caused by a bacterium called the pneumococcus.1 This bacterium can cause serious illnesses such as pneumonia, meningitis and septicaemia (blood poisoning).

Vaccines are available, but they don’t always work in very young children and they do not give protection against all of the 90 or so different types of the pneumococcus. Researchers are developing the new nasal spray vaccine in the hope of protecting more children.

Dr Yolande Harley, Deputy Director of Research for Action Medical Research, said: “Babies and children are vulnerable to infections. Meningitis and septicaemia for example, kills significant numbers of children in the UK each year and can devastate the lives of those who survive.

“Funding Dr Zhang’s work is part of the charity’s drive to help children affected by infections. This is a very important area of research which has the potential to protect many children from serious illnesses if the vaccine proves to be successful.”

This project brings together three leading researchers with complementary expertise. The project leader, Dr Qibo Zhang, School of Infection and Host Defence, University of Liverpool, has a successful track record in researching how the immune system responds to pneumococcal infections and possible protein vaccines.

Professor Timothy Mitchell, from the Glasgow Biomedical Research Centre, is a world-leading expert in the research on pneumococcus.  Dr McNamara is based in the Institute of Child Health at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, one of the biggest and busiest children’s hospitals in Europe, and has a major research interest in childhood respiratory disease.

Dr Zhang said: “As well as causing severe illnesses like meningitis, pneumococcal infections can also lead to more common but less serious problems, such as middle ear infections and pneumonia.

He added: “Vaccines can protect children from diseases caused by the pneumococcus. However, current vaccines are complex and expensive to produce, they do not protect against all of the 90 or so different types of this bacterium and they are not all effective in very young children. Better vaccines are needed.”

The researchers are in the laboratory stages of developing and testing a possible new vaccine against the pneumococcus. The vaccine contains a substance called D4Ply, a fragment of a protein that is produced by nearly all of the 90 or so different types of pneumococcus. Basing the vaccine on this substance could therefore mean it gives protection against nearly all pneumococcal bacteria. Existing vaccines, in contrast, do not give such broad protection.

The researchers are hoping to incorporate the new vaccine into a nasal spray. They believe this would stimulate an immune response by the adenoids, which are immune tissues in the upper airways – the area of the body that pneumococcal bacteria normally invade first. (Existing vaccines are given via intramuscular injections, normally in the arm.)

The researchers are assessing whether the new vaccine induces an immune response in cells taken from the adenoids of around 30 children, aged 2-5 years. The children are having their adenoids removed because they have become enlarged, causing an obstruction in the upper airways.

If the vaccine shows promise in the laboratory, the researchers hope to move towards clinical trials as quickly as possible. The researchers believe their potential new vaccine could be much cheaper to produce than those that are currently available, meaning it could bring considerable savings in public healthcare costs in the UK. Lower costs could also mean the vaccine is affordable in developing countries.

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Notes to editors:

For further information please contact:
Claudine Weeks, Communications Manager
Tel: 01403 327478
Email: cweeks@action.org.uk

The University of Liverpool is a member of the Russell Group of leading research-intensive institutions in the UK. It attracts collaborative and contract research commissions from a wide range of national and international organisations valued at more than £98 million annually.

Action Medical Research is the leading UK-wide medical research charity dedicated to helping babies and children. We know that medical research can save and change children’s lives. For nearly 60 years we have been instrumental in significant medical breakthroughs, including the development of the UK polio vaccine and ultrasound scanning in pregnancy. Today, we continue to find and fund the very best medical research to help stop the suffering of babies and children caused by disease and disability. We want to make a difference in:
•    tackling premature birth and treating sick and vulnerable babies
•    helping children affected by disability, disabling conditions and infections
•    targeting rare diseases that together severely affect many forgotten children.


World Health Organization (WHO). Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine for childhood immunization – WHO position paper. Weekly epidemiological record 23 March 2007, 82 (10):93-104.http://www.who.int/wer/2007/wer8212.pdf

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