First ever T-cell vaccine could combat viral infections

Researchers at Massachusetts-based biotech Genocea will begin their first clinical trial this year testing a genital herpes vaccine.
Written by Janet Fang, Contributor

T-cells are a type of white blood cells called lymphocytes. They’re a major part of our bodies’ defense system, and now one biotech company believes it can create the first effective T-cell vaccines.

If it works, this would redefine infectious medicine. Technology Review reports.

Traditional vaccines don’t work for some communicable diseases. But T-cell vaccines can activate a different type of immune response, and could, in theory, better prevent chronic infections. So far, this technique isn’t on the market.

But researchers at Massachusetts-based biotech Genocea think their method could change that… they’ll begin their first clinical trial this year.

All existing vaccines rouse the body into creating antibodies that attach to the surface of infecting microbes and flag them for destruction. But pathogens that live inside our cells, such as the viruses, bacteria, and other microbes that cause AIDS, malaria, herpes, and chlamydia, can evade this surveillance.

"In order to deal with those types of pathogens, oftentimes we have to stimulate what we call cellular immunity. Unlike antibody immunity, which recognizes pathogens directly, cellular immunity has to recognize the infected cell and get rid of your own infected cells," says Genocea cofounder Darren Higgins at Harvard Medical School.

But activating cellular immunity – and the infection-fighting T cells that drive it – is challenging. They must identify the right protein (or antigen) from a pathogen that will grab a T-cell's attention and signal that a human cell harbors an infectious agent.

Once those protein pieces are figured out, they can be used as a vaccine to educate the immune system on what to respond to.

The first test: a genital herpes vaccine.

Each of the 80 or so proteins in the herpes simplex 2 genome is a possibility, as are the thousand or so proteins in chlamydia and the 5,000 or so in malaria. Testing each protein one by one is a slow and expensive process. Genocea's approach involves collecting as many of the pathogen's proteins as can reasonably be produced in a lab, and then monitoring how human immune cells respond to each.

If successful, Genocea's herpes simplex 2 vaccine would be the first to combat the disease.

[From Technology Review]

Image: Genocea

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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