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Researchers Closer to Developing Universal Meningitis B Vaccine
Date:7/15/2011

By Denise Mann
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, July 15 (HealthDay News) -- New research may bring scientists one step closer to developing a vaccine that protects against hundreds of strains of meningococcus B, the most common cause of bacterial meningitis.

Bacterial meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, can cause brain damage and death. Existing vaccines cover four of five types of bacteria that cause the disease, but developing a vaccine against meningococcus B has been challenging because more than 300 strains exist.

For this study, researchers with Novartis, the pharmaceuticals giant, and the University of Florence in Italy bioengineered 54 immunogens, which are substances that can elicit an immune response. They then tested these immunogens in mice to see which ones encouraged the development of antibodies when exposed to diverse strains of meningococcus B. From there, they tested eight particular immunogens that triggered the best antibody response in a mouse model against a larger, more diverse group of meningococcus B strains. This experiment allowed them to pinpoint the most effective candidate.

"The cool thing about what these researchers did is that they bioengineered their own variant," said Dr. Alka Khaitan, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City. "The new technology would allow us to look at all the variations and then pick and choose the ones that are likely to be protective."

More study is needed, but if the technology becomes widely available, it could also foster the development of vaccines for malaria and HIV, the virus that cause AIDS, she said. HIV and malaria also have many variations, which has hampered vaccine development.

The study results are published July 13 in Science Translational Medicine.

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