Synthetic vaccine to finally eradicate polio

Posted on Feb 16 2015 - 5:49pm by IBC News

An international team of scientists is to try to develop a wholly artificial vaccine to combat polio.

The disease is very close to being eradicated, with only a few hundred cases now reported worldwide each year.

The hope is that the new approach can address some shortcomings in an existing vaccine, and so help eliminate polio altogether.

The World Health Organization and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are providing a $674,000 (£438,000) grant.

The project was announced at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Jose, California.

Researchers in the US and the UK will participate.

In Britain, this will pull in workers from Leeds, Oxford, Reading, and the Diamond synchrotron.

Genome ‘removed’

The battle against polio is tantalisingly close to being won.

Where once there were hundreds of thousands of cases worldwide, just 350 were reported last year, and most of those were in Pakistan.

But the last mile is proving to be frustrating. One reason is because the existing oral vaccine uses a weakened version of the virus as its stimulus to provoke a response and protection in the patient.

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Prof Dave Stuart: “We’re not able at the moment to get rid of those last few cases”

And in just a few particular individuals, this can set up an infection in the gut that then enables a reactivated virus to pass out of the body and spread to other, unvaccinated people.


But if the virus particle has no genetic machinery this transmission route is closed, and the World Health Organization and the Gates Foundation is to fund the scientists to engineer just such particle for use as a replacement vaccine.

Professor Dave Stuart from Oxford University is a member of the team.

“The idea of the synthetic vaccine is that it contains no genome – it’s virus free,” he told BBC News.

“So it’s made, in a way, like a super-chemical, a complicated chemical, that assembles itself to look like the virus but has no way of ever replicating.”

The team feels it is already some way down the road to achieving its goal because of the success it had in developing a synthetic vaccine to combat the foot and mouth disease virus (FMDV).

Polio is from the same family of viruses and works in very similar ways.