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BioScience Center Research Paves Way for Better Vaccines

A new vaccine platform could improve effectiveness and prevent more diseases.
The vaccine applications for EP67 are almost limitless.
The vaccine applications for EP67 are almost limitless.

Researchers in the Donald P. Shiley BioScience Center have developed a new adjuvant for vaccines that could improve their effectiveness. The new technology could also allow for the development of new vaccines to prevent viral, bacterial and fungal infections, as well as several forms of cancer.

Improving immune memory

BioScience Center researchers Edward Morgan, Joy Phillips, Marilyn Thoman and Kelly Doran, in collaboration with Sam Sanderson from the School of Allied Health Professions at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, have developed the newly engineered adjuvant, EP67, which improves immune memory beyond what is available in current vaccines. It is the culmination of a 25-year research collaboration between Sanderson and Morgan in the arena of immunobiotics.

An adjuvant is a component of a vaccine that helps stimulate the immune system to fight the particular bacteria or virus the vaccine is hoping to fight. The researchers found that effective vaccines could be made by attaching EP67 to an antigen, the entity that researchers want the immune system to rise up against.

“We are taking a new approach in vaccine development by using components of the immune system to create a safe and effective adjuvant that is currently not available,” said Morgan, research professor of immunology in the SDSU Bioscience Center.

Boosting immune response in at-risk groups

“Some current vaccines do not work well in the very young or the very old, so the action of our EP67 adjuvant will help to boost the immune response and make the vaccine more effective in these individuals,” said Doran, assistant biology professor in the SDSU College of Sciences.

According to Sanderson, “Now that we have the platform developed, the vaccine applications are almost limitless.”

Traditional vaccine development reduces the severity of a virus or bacteria by administering a primary immunization, followed by one or multiple booster injections.  

“While this approach worked well for classic ‘childhood’ diseases, today we face a multitude of problems with this paradigm,” Morgan said.

“The development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, emerging viral infections and problematic pathogens has raised the bar for vaccine development. For example, the lack of effective vaccines to certain bacteria, as well as the existence of antibiotic resistance strains, leaves a void in the clinician’s range of options for treatment of infections.”

Preventing more deadly diseases

It is hoped that this new technology will lead to the development of vaccines against diseases in which there are no effective vaccines currently available. 

One example is the antibiotic-resistant strain of Staphylococcus aureus, better known as MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus). MRSA, a formidable human pathogen resulting in relatively minor skin infections to more invasive sepsis disorders, pneumonia, brain abscesses and death, has become a serious problem worldwide and there are currently no antibiotics to treat it.

“With certain serious diseases, like MRSA, it is far better to prevent the infection and the disease,” Doran said.

The research appears in the December issue of Vaccine, a leading science journal in the vaccine field.

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