Albany Medical College has received a $2.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop a universal vaccine strategy that could be used to produce vaccines to protect against many different diseases.
The five-year grant will further enhance Albany Med’s flourishing vaccine research program.
“Establishing an effective and streamlined vaccine development strategy is key to conquering current and emerging infectious diseases,” said Edmund Gosselin, PhD, professor at the Center for Immunology and Microbial Disease (CIMD) at Albany Medical College. “Vaccine development is often slow and unsuccessful because scientists use diverse approaches. We have proposed that a single approach, or template, can be developed to make new vaccines.”
Vaccines work by introducing a weakened or killed germ into the body so that individuals develop immunity and don’t become sick if exposed to the actual disease organism.
The proposed approach takes into account key strategies that maximize three of the most important criteria for vaccine success: developing appropriate growth conditions to ensure that the disease particles used in a vaccine closely match the disease; assuring that the vaccine effectively stimulates the immune system, and targeting optimal disease-fighting cells in the body.
This strategy, Dr. Gosselin said, also avoids the use of adjuvants, substances that are added to vaccines to boost their efficiency, but which are limited and can have side effects.
The project harnesses the skills of three scientists: Karsten Hazlett, PhD, a microbiologist in the CIMD skilled in the study and genetic manipulation of microbes; Timothy Sellati, PhD, an immunologist with expertise in the innate immune system who was with Albany Med until recently when he joined the Trudeau Institute, and Dr. Gosselin, an expert in the development and testing of targeted vaccines.
Dr. Gosselin explained that although vaccines have transformed medicine and saved countless lives, a number of diseases are still not vaccine-preventable, including AIDS, MRSA and tularemia. Further, he said existing disease organisms can mutate, which will inevitably create a need for new vaccines against even currently preventable diseases.
“It’s similar to how germs figure out how to beat antibiotics. We need to constantly stay ahead of disease,” he said.