AMHERST, Mass. -- University of Massachusetts scientists are among those who have formulated a vaccine that prevents the disease chlamydia, the leading cause of female infertility in this country. A patent for the vaccine has been granted based on work by microbiology professor A. Bruce MacDonald, who died last September, and his colleague, Elizabeth Stuart, a lecturer in microbiology. The work was done in conjunction with Judith Whittum-Hudson, an immunologist at Johns Hopkins University, and William Mark Saltzman, a chemical engineer at Cornell University.
Chlamydia is a bacterium with many virus-like features, explains Stuart. Besides the form of the disease which causes female infertility, and which can be sexually transmitted, another form of chlamydia is a major cause of blindness in Third-World nations. Recent research indicates that chlamydia also may be responsible for some cardiac and joint disorders.
The vaccine has been tested on mice; Stuart cautions that it will be several years perhaps as long as a decade before clinical trials are completed that could bring governmental approval for the vaccine. Current work is focusing on development of a nasal vaccine as an alternative to a strictly oral medication.
Stuart and MacDonald worked together on the research beginning in 1979, in an effort to discover and characterize various traits of the bacterium. For many years, scientists believed that it was impossible to create a chlamydia vaccine; there are many types of chlamydia, and it was thought that a separate vaccine would be needed for each strain. Scientists would have had to pinpoint a different and precise molecule in each strain, "a daunting task for researchers," says Stuart.
So Stuart and MacDonald, along with their collaborators, took a different approach: they identified a molecule, GLXA, which is present in all types of chlamydia. But the discovery presented a problem: most vaccines, such as flu vaccines
Contact: Elizabeth Luciano
University of Massachusetts at Amherst