Wistar immunologists awarded grants to promote the development of vaccinesagainst HIV-1 and human papilloma viruses

Philadelphia -- Three Wistar Institute immunologists have been awarded grants to support their development of vaccines against diseases that attack the mucous membranes. Principal Investigator, Hildegund Ertl, MD, was awarded a grant by the Mary L. Smith Charitable Lead Trust for her research on HIV-1 vaccines. Anthony Wlazlo, PhD, and Dariusz Kowalczyk, MD, researchers in Dr. Ertl's laboratory, earned fellowships from the Cancer Research Foundation of America for their development of vaccines against human papilloma viruses (HPV).

Because the mucous membranes are protected by an independent immune system, Dr. Ertl suspects they are not adequately protected by systemic vaccines. Consequently, she and her Wistar research team are designing vaccines that target the mucosal immune system.

To successfully prevent HIV-1, explains Dr. Ertl, a combination vaccine is needed to induce neutralizing antibodies at the site of virus entry, usually the genital mucosa, and to trigger the production of killer T cells. Immunologists have yet to determine if it is possible to do both simultaneously. The immune system typically generates either a Th1 response to disease, which activates killer T cells, or a Th2 response, which promotes the development of B cells that secrete antibodies at mucosal surfaces. It is a challenge, says Dr. Ertl, to develop a vaccine that can simultaneously induce both. Dr. Ertl's findings will also be useful to scientists in other research centers exploring similar approaches

At the same time, other scientists in Dr. Ertl's laboratory are developing vaccines against HPV, a group of viruses known to cause cervical cancer, the second most common malignancy in women. Rather than treating the cancer, explains Dr. Ertl, the key to controlling HPV is through a vaccine that prevents the infection. The researchers' goal is to produce a strong and enduring mucosal immunity by neutralizing antibodies that, in model systems, prevent infection

Contact: Diana Cutshall
The Wistar Institute

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