BREAKTHROUGHS BLOG

October 15, 2018

Research Roundup: Tech to stop a pandemic, DNA vaccine against Ebola, and a unique way to attack malaria

Ansley Kahn
Program Assistant
GHTC
PATH/Dan Chang

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In a new report, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security highlight 15 promising technologies that could help make the world better equipped to fight emerging infectious disease (EID) outbreaks and prevent such outbreaks from becoming catastrophic events. The list includes innovative solutions from vaccines that spread through populations like viruses to 3D printed drugs. The 15 technologies identified in the report fall under five broad categories—disease detection and surveillance, diagnostics, manufacture of pharmaceuticals, administration of vaccines and drugs, and medical care—and range in use from the early detection of an EID, to preventing its spread, and through to the care of patients. Notably, researchers looked for innovations that could be used in developing countries where EID outbreaks “hit first and hit hardest,” according to Dr. Crystal Watson, lead author of the report. 

A novel synthetic DNA vaccine candidate against Ebola, which targets the virus’ surface, offered complete protection from the Zaire strain of the Ebola virus in preclinical research. Importantly, the vaccine candidate also demonstrated durability, showing strong immune responses one year after the last dose—a particularly challenging area for Ebola vaccines. Compared to traditional vaccine approaches that involve injection into muscle, synthetic non-viral–based DNA vaccines can be administered directly into the skin, resulting in consistent, potent, and rapid immunity. The antibody levels resulting from this vaccine candidate were equal to or higher than those for other vaccines currently being evaluated in the clinic at the Wistar Institute Vaccine & Immunotherapy Center, where the research was conducted. One researcher noted the success of an intradermal, low-dose regimen as encouraging in the pursuit to create safe and effective vaccines that are optimized for high-risk areas.

A new type of malaria vaccine, known as a transmission-blocking vaccine (TBV), which aims to prevent mosquitoes from becoming infected by malaria parasites when feeding on infected humans, could one day become part of a suite of tools used to combat malaria. While traditionally scientists have focused on developing vaccines that prevent malaria infection from developing after a person is bitten with a parasite-carrying mosquito, a TBV works differently. A TBV signals the human body to begin making anti-malaria antibodies that will be passed to the mosquito when it bites the immunized person, disrupting the transmission cycle between mosquitoes and humans. While a TBV would not directly prevent an immunized person from getting infected, it would reduce the likelihood of people in that community becoming infected. A research team supported by the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, the University of Buffalo and others have shown that the TBV approach could be effective. The researchers found that antibodies from a protein called Pfs25 effectively blocked the development of malaria-causing parasites in the gut of mosquitoes in animal studies.

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