Developing better treatments faster, starting with Nipah virus.
The planet’s emerging diseases are similar to wildfires -- detecting them early and containing them is crucial, said Guy Palmer, director of Washington State University’s Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health. But where water and fire retardants can contain a blaze, a disease virus may require a vaccine.
Creating a new vaccine is no easy feat. Scientists must identify, produce and purify virus proteins that trigger a person’s immune response. But by the time a vaccine is developed and stockpiled to protect a population, the virus can spread and infect with vengeance.
Allen School researchers are working to keep that from happening.
“We’re focusing on speeding up vaccine development so that the interval between the detection of a new virus and the production of a vaccine is as short as possible,” Palmer said.
On the fast track with DNA
Virologist Hector Aguilar-Carreno and his team of student researchers in the Allen School anticipate a more rapid vaccine creation within a few years. They are inserting virus DNA into animal cells, which then produce “viral-like particles” that mimic the virus but can’t replicate and inflict harm.
As a key vaccine ingredient, these particles would trigger an immune response in the human or animal under attack by the virus.
“We’re working to optimize DNA expression of proteins so the most useful ones present themselves most readily,” said Aguilar-Carreno.
Breakthrough would apply to other viruses
Aguilar-Carreno joined the Allen School three years ago to continue his research on Nipah virus, a contagious disease that originates in tropical fruit bats and kills 40 to 90 percent of the people it infects.
So far outbreaks have remained isolated in rural areas of South Asia. If the virus were to reach a city before a vaccine is developed, it could kill more people than it spares.
While Aguilar-Carreno’s work is focused on finding a fast-track Nipah vaccine, “this same strategy could potentially be applied to combating other virus-causing diseases,” he said.