The development of effective affordable vaccines.
Researchers led by Drs. Richard Malley and Marc Lipsitch from Harvard and Adam Finn from Bristol University, working in collaboration, have uncovered key evidence on how the immune system detects and destroys pneumococcus, the bacterium responsible for a flurry of illnesses in the young and elderly each year, causing pneumonia and meningitis.
The research teams were able to produce “evidence for a key role for the recently described cytokine interleukin 17 in a mouse model of the infection” and, consequently, were also able to identify “the immune cells that are responsible for this process, so-called TH17 cells, which release a factor that enables human blood cells to kill pneumococcus more efficiently. Professor Finn explained that understanding “how children build up immunity to pneumococcus will help the development of effective affordable vaccines for use where they are most needed.”
This new discovery is especially significant considering that immunity to pneumococcus was previously thought to be due entirely to antibodies. Investigators now believe there is an efficient way of measuring the TH17 cells, which would be extremely helpful in rallying an effective response in terms of a vaccine. With support from the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH), vaccines, both nasal and oral, are now being manufactured for testing in animals.