August 20, 2017

Research Roundup: Plants as vaccines, the African CDC, and herd immunity in Zika

Program Assistant
PATH/Evelyn Hockstein

In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week.

Scientists at the UK’s John Innes Centre believe that a plant closely related to tobacco may hold promise in accelerating polio eradication by transforming vaccine manufacturing. Scientists have hijacked the plant’s growing mechanisms with genetic code for making the outer surface of poliovirus and taught them to grow virus-like particles, which are then extracted into a vaccine. This resulting vaccine mimics the poliovirus, and thus elicits an immune response, but contains none of the properties that cause a poliovirus infection. Scientists are hopeful this may be an effective way to create safe vaccines in the future that aren't made with live viruses, and hope to mimic the process with other viruses as well.

Members of the hospital staff in Uganda during the 2014 Ebola outbreak.

Following the 2014 Ebola outbreak in several African countries, an African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) was formalized and launched to focus on capacity building in Africa to protect against infectious disease threats. Ending malaria is an important target of the Africa CDC, but there is much to be done to achieve this goal. First, efforts to collect real-time data must be strengthened to ensure the Africa CDC makes informed decisions. Second, international aid institutions and African nations must provide adequate resources to support the Africa CDC. Third, the international community must continue to work toward malaria eradication.

Scientists believe individuals in the Americas have developed herd immunity that has resulted in a significant drop-off in Zika incidence. Once a person is infected with Zika, it is not possible for them to be infected again, so they can no longer pass on the virus to mosquitoes who pass it on to other individuals. Scientists think because Zika is usually asymptomatic in non-pregnant individuals, many have been infected and are now immune. This suggests that as the number of people resistant to the virus increases, incidence of others contracting the virus will decrease. With that said, however, scientists still urge pregnant women to take caution when traveling to Zika endemic areas of the world.