Hope For New Meningitis Vaccine

Research performed by scientists at the School of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences, University of Surrey and the Health Protection Agency (Porton Down, Salisbury) provides hope for developing a new meningitis vaccine that will protect children against all groups of meningococcus.

Published in the journal, Infection and Immunity, the research found that meningococcus is responsible for epidemics of meningitis worldwide that kills thousands of children each year. Vaccines are available for the A and C groups, but no effective vaccine is currently available for B groups. There are about 1500 confirmed cases of group B meningitis in the UK each year, but the true incidence is likely to be nearer twice that number since many cases go unreported. About 10% of children who suffer meningococcal meningitis die of the disease and many of the survivors are left severely handicapped.

The Surrey researchers used genetic engineering technology to make a mutant group of the meningococcus that was incapable of causing disease in mice. The mutant was made in a C group of the meningococcus. However, mice that were inoculated with the mutant group developed antibodies that killed not only C groups but also B and A groups. It appears that, by inoculating with the disabled group, the mice have effectively been immunised against all groups.

The research suggests that it should be possible to develop a single vaccine to protect against all groups of the meningococcus. Such a vaccine could revolutionise meningitis vaccination around the world. The researchers are now analysing the immune response of the immunised mice to try and discover the identity of the targets that the mouse antibodies are hitting.

Although much work needs to be done, the research holds real promise that a new vaccine may be developed that will protect children against all groups of the meningococcus, both in the UK and around the world.

The research is supported by the Meningitis Trust.

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http://www.surrey.ac.uk

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