New Research May Lead to Preventative Vaccine for Ear Infections

July 6, 2009

Researchers have developed a "pain-free vaccination strategy" to reduce and even eliminate ear infections in children.

Researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, in collaboration with Tulane University School of Medicine, have developed a “pain-free vaccination strategy” to reduce and even eliminate ear infections in children.

Lauren Bakaletz, PhD, director of the Center for Microbial Pathogenesis in The Research Institute at Nationwide, and John Clements, PhD, of Tulane’s School of Medicine, developed a vaccine formula that was recently tested on chinchillas. When the formula was placed on the outer ears of the animals and rubbed into the skin, it was “extremely effective” in protecting against ear infections, Bakaletz said. The researchers explained that the vaccine works by traveling to the lymphoid organs and generating an immune response that rapidly reduced or eliminated NTHI, a bacteria that is commonly responsible for ear infections from the nose and ears.

“The emergence of antibiotic-resistant microorganisms and the invasive nature of the surgical procedure raise the need to develop different ways to treat or, preferably, prevent ear infections,” said Dr. Bakaletz, who is also a faculty member at Ohio State University College of Medicine.

According to the researchers, ear infections are the most commonly diagnosed illness in children under 15 years of age in the United States, and over 80% of children will experience an ear infection before their third birthday. They are also the primary concern that leads parents to bring children in for emergency room visits.

These results are “the first to show immunization as an effective way to prevent ear infections,” the researchers said, and may lead to treatments for other respiratory tract diseases that are caused by NTHI.

“These studies lay the foundation for an effective, yet simple, inexpensive and potentially transformative way to deliver vaccines,” said Dr. Bakaletz. “It’s our hope the method of applying the vaccine to the skin will allow us to distribute it to some of the poorest children in the world.”