The results are a vital first step towards development of a universal vaccine against all types of pneumococcal meningitis.
Researchers at the University of Adelaide, Australia have been working on this MRF project since 2008 to try and find new vaccine targets for pneumococcal disease.
Dr David Ogunniyi and his team looked at how the bacteria behave when they infect the brain and spinal cord, to see if there was a particular part that was important for the bacteria’s ability to cause disease.
The results have been published in the June issue of Journal of Clinical Investigation with GlpO being shown to be pivotal for the bacteria’s ability to infect and damage brain cells.
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If our immune systems could be primed by a vaccine to recognise GlpO, we could protect ourselves against pneumococcal disease before it develops.
Pneumococcal infection affects all ages, and is a major cause of meningitis and other severe illness amongst children and adults worldwide.
It particularly affects young children and older adults, and is more likely to cause deafness and brain damage that any other major type of meningitis.
The vaccine currently in use against pneumococcal infection has been very successful. However, there are over 90 different strains of the bacteria that cause pneumococcal disease, and the current pneumococcal vaccines protect against only 13 of the 90 strains.
At present this covers most pneumococcal disease, but it is likely to be a temporary solution. In the long run, strains not covered by the vaccine are likely to become more prevalent, and this highlights the importance of research to develop a universal vaccine that could protect against all types of pneumococcal disease.
Dr David Ogunniyi, the lead researcher at University of Adelaide, said “This study provides the first direct evidence that GlpO plays a significant role in the development of pneumococcal meningitis and strongly suggests that it might be a suitable candidate for future vaccines.
“The next step will be to investigate GlpO further.”
Meanwhile, Chris Head, CEO of MRF, added: “Pneumococcal meningitis still affects hundreds of families in the UK each year, and is a major burden worldwide.
“We’re pleased that our research provides new hope for broader protection against pneumococcal meningitis in the future.”
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