British health scientists from Oxford and Reading University, the Pirbright Institute and Diamond Light Source have created a prototype vaccine which is entirely synthetic. As it does not require any live infectious virus it is thought to be much safer than traditional vaccines.
“Unlike the traditional vaccines, there is no chance that the empty shell vaccine could revert to an infectious form”. Prof Dave Stuart, Diamond Light Source and University of Oxford.
Another huge advantage of a new synthetic vaccine is that it does not need to be kept cool as the vaccine can be kept stable at temperatures up to 56C for 2 hours. This could revolutionise how vaccines are delivered to communities in the developing world where refrigeration is a problem.
The create the synthetic vaccine the virus was examined using X-ray crystallography which allows the protein shell of the virus to be examined at the atomic level. This then allows a perfect anti-virus to be created. The research team created a synthetic viral shell which can carry the anti-virus while ensuring that the virus cannot replicate.
Foot and Mouth Vaccine
The vaccine that has been produced by the British team treats the foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV).
The vaccine works by triggering an optimum immune system response via tiny protein shells. The protein shells are very stable which makes storage much easier.
Foot and mouth disease is still endemic in many countries and this new vaccine has the potential to wipe out the disease completely if enough funding can be sought to start worldwide vaccination.
The development of the vaccine followed the foot and mouth outbreak in the UK. In 2001 the outbreak costs the British economy billions of pounds. The Royal Society recommended that research should be started to find a new way to vaccinate against foot and mouth to help control the virus.
Pirbruight, the laboratory which helped to develop this new vaccine, was actually determined to be the source of the 2001 outbreak in the UK. Its laboratory near Guildford was found to be “shabby” following the foot and mouth outbreak, and that a leaking drain was the possible cause of the infection spreading into the community during a period of heavy rainfall.
Polio is a member of the same family as the foot and mouth virus and it is hopeful that the new method of creating synthetic vaccines could be applied to polio too. Poliovirus is still endemic in South East Asia.
The research was funded by Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, UK (Defra) and the Wellcome Trust.
Read The Research
The research was published in PLOS Pathogens on Wednesday 27th March 2013; Rational Engineering of Recombinant Picornavirus Capsids to Produce Safe, Protective Vaccine Antigen (pdf)
“Rational Engineering of Recombinant Picornavirus Capsids to Produce Safe, Protective Vaccine Antigen” by Claudine Porta, Abhay Kotecha, Alison Burman, Terry Jackson, Jingshan Ren, Silvia Loureiro, Ian M. Jones, Elizabeth E. Fry, David I. Stuart, Bryan Charleston
New foot-and-mouth vaccine signals huge advance in global disease control – Diamond.ac.uk (includes a video interview)