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UNC, Vanderbilt discover a new live vaccine approach for SARS and novel coronaviruses
Date:11/12/2012

Rapid mutation has long been considered a key to viral adaptation to environmental change. But in the case of the coronavirus responsible for deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), collaborating researchers at the University of North Carolina and Vanderbilt University have found that accelerating the rate of mutations cripples the virus's ability to cause disease in animals. In addition, they say this finding may allow scientists to explore a new option for creating safer live vaccines.

A collaborative study, published Nov. 11 in Nature Medicine, demonstrates a SARS-coronavirus, altered to lack the ability to "proofread" (correct mistakes in replication), begins to mutate much more rapidly and becomes unable to cause disease in mouse models. In effect, the alteration creates a profoundly weakened or attenuated SARS virus.

This work may offer reassurance at a critical time. Public attention was recently heightened regarding a novel human coronavirus that sickened at least two with respiratory and kidney disease, killing one in the Middle East. The SARS outbreak in 2002 and 2003 caused 50 percent mortality in older adults. A rapid and effective international response ended the outbreak in just four months. The final tally: 8,422 cases of SARS, resulting in 916 deaths.

"We originally thought that the virus might find a way to fix the mutations we engineered or work around them as viruses often do. That didn't happen, and in this case, the attenuated viruses replicated well enough and long enough to generate a protective immune response, even in immunocompromised animals, so it works wonderfully as a vaccine in an animal model," said Rachel Graham, Ph.D., a research associate at UNC, who led the research.

The study is the culmination of more than a decade of collaboration between the laboratories of Mark Denison, M.D., Craig-Weaver Professor of Pediatrics and professor of Pathology, Microbiology & Immunology at V
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Contact: Carole Bartoo
carole.bartoo@vanderbilt.edu
615-322-4747
Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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