Protein research could lead to new meningitis vaccine

New technology is leading to a vaccine against Group B Streptococci (GBS), a common cause of meningitis as well as a frequent cause of pneumonia in newborns. Key proteins have been found that can kick-start the immune system to fight these bacteria, scientists heard today (Tuesday 09 April 2002) at the spring meeting of the Society for General Microbiology at the University of Warwick.

“We have developed a method to rapidly screen for cell surface proteins in GBS, which can cause pneumonia and meningitis in newborn babies (0.7 per 1000 live births in the UK). Our lab results show that vaccines containing these proteins can protect against infection,” says Dr Sean Hanniffy of the Institute of Food Research, Norwich.

“We have discovered a large number of novel GBS proteins through our LEEP (Lactococcal Expression of Exported Proteins) screening technology. Some of these proteins are present in GBS isolates representing all known serotypes, suggesting they might protect against most strains. No licenced vaccines are currently available against GBS infection,” says Dr Hanniffy.

Dr Jerry Wells, Head of the Bacterial Infection & Immunity Group at IFR said, “this approach has been very successful for GBS and has also been used to discover surface proteins from Streptococcus pneumoniae, the leading cause of middle ear infections in infants and pneumonia in the elderly.”

“Our work in collaboration with Provalis plc, indicates that certain surface proteins from these bacteria show promise as vaccine candidates. We hope that these vaccines will be evaluated in clinical trials in the near future,” says Dr Hanniffy.

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