DNA Vaccine 100 Percent Effective Against Rabies In Monkeys

Scientists at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories (RML), part of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), have developed a DNA vaccine against rabies that protected eight of eight vaccinated monkeys from the disease. It is the first DNA vaccine to show complete protection in nonhuman primates against a virus that attacks the central nervous system (CNS). Their report describing the successful experiment appears in the August 1998 issue of Nature Medicine.

"There's no gray area in this experiment. That's what's so beautiful about it," comments lead author Donald L. Lodmell, Ph.D., an expert in NIAID's Laboratory of Persistent Viral Diseases located in Hamilton, Mont. In addition to perfect protection afforded by the vaccine, anti-rabies antibodies elicited by the vaccine neutralized a global range of rabies viruses. These results suggest, says Dr. Lodmell, that the DNA vaccine could be effective anywhere in the world.

Each year, more than 40,000 people worldwide die from rabies. It is one of the oldest and most feared human diseases, first described in 2300 B.C. Symptoms include agitation, convulsions, paralysis and delirium. Without prompt treatment, rabies almost inevitably ends in death.

In the United States, few people die from rabies because of widespread immunization of domestic animals: since 1994, only eight deaths have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, the CDC estimates that another 30,000 to 40,000 people each year receive shots to fend off the disease after possible exposure. Rabid bats, raccoons, skunks or other wild animals are the primary sources of human infection in the United States.

Most deaths occur in developing countries where rabies is endemic and resources are inadequate to provide optimal post-exposure treatment. Such treatment, which consists of injections of rabies virus grown in human cells and then inactivated, and human anti-rabies serum, co

Contact: Laurie K. Doepel
NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

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