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Meningitis vaccine study gets £200,000 boost

It can kill in four hours and more than 300 people in the UK die from it every year — and hundreds more are left with permanent disabilities. Now researchers will work on a potential vaccine for meningitis B, thanks to a £200,000 grant from the medical charity Meningitis UK.

Although vaccines exist to protect against some strains of meningitis, there is still no vaccine to protect against all strains, including the most common in the UK — Group B meningococci. This is responsible for almost 90 per cent of all cases and is most common in children under the age of five.

The team, led by Dr Karl Wooldridge, a lecturer in the Centre for Biomolecular Sciences, aim to develop a vaccine against this strain of the bacterium. Group B meningococci mimic molecules in the human body, which makes developing an effective vaccine against this strain very difficult.

Researchers worldwide are searching for alternative antigens — molecules that can stimulate an immune response — on the surface of the bacteria, which could be used as a basis for a vaccine against meningitis B.

The team has identified a series of autotransporter proteins — proteins which are secreted from the surface of Group B meningococci — which could be used to create antibodies that will then kill the bacteria.

The grant will be used to fund a two-year research post, examining each of the proteins produced by the bacteria for the potential to create effective antibodies. The genetic code for each protein will be cloned and tagged, allowing the protein to be produced in large amounts and purified for further study.

“If we identify one or more of these proteins that give a good protective response we would ultimately move to human trials,” said Dr Wooldridge. “This would hopefully demonstrate a positive immune response to the vaccine. By identifying a range of active proteins, rather than just one, we could develop a vaccine that targeted all strains of the Group B meningococci.”

Meningitis UK launched its Search 4 a Vaccine Campaign in 2007 to help raise £7million over the next seven years to fund vital work into developing a vaccine against Group B. This innovative project is just one of the studies the charity is funding.

Meningitis UK’s Chief Executive Steve Dayman said: “We are extremely pleased to be funding Dr Karl Wooldridge and his team in their work to discover more about the proteins secreted by the Meningitis B bacteria. If this research can go forward to help develop a vaccine, thousands of lives could be saved.

“Meningitis can be incredibly hard to detect as many of its symptoms are often similar to more minor ailments such as the common cold or flu, plus there are occasions when people show no, or very few, symptoms. For these reasons, we believe the only way to eradicate meningitis completely is through the development of a preventative vaccine.”

Emma Thorne | alfa
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