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UGA study reveals a new way of looking at vaccine development

University of Georgia researchers have given vaccine developers a new tool that could lead to the development of designer vaccines that protect against a wider range of diseases or work against diseases that are currently hard to prevent.

In a study published in the May 23 edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Robert J. Woods and his colleagues demonstrate precisely how antibodies react differently to two common disease-causing bacteria Group B Streptococcus and Streptococcus pneumoniae.

Their 3D modeling technique gives researchers the power to effectively see how the body's antibodies bind to the chains of sugars on the outer coats of bacteria. In cases where antibodies don't bind to the sugars and no immune response is triggered, researchers could chemically alter the sugars so that body recognizes the bacteria as a threat and mounts a defense.

"What you'd really like is to control either the broadness of the immune response so that you can take one vaccine and protect against multiple strains of the bacteria," said Woods, lead author of the study and associate professor of biochemistry at the UGA Complex Carbohydrate Research Center. "Or you could take a strain that's not easy to vaccinate against and induce an immune response using a synthetically modified sugar."

Woods and his colleagues chose to examine Group B Streptococcus and Streptococcus pneumoniae because of their virulence and because they have very similar outer coats. Chemically, strains III and 14 of these two bacteria share a common molecular backbone. The only difference is a missing acidic sugar in the side chain of Streptococcus pneumoniae 14.

The immune system can generate antibodies against both bacteria but despite the similarities in their surface sugars antibodies against the one bacterium do not generally recognize the other and so do not protect against infection by the other.

To understand this lack of
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Contact: Kim Osborne
kcarlyle@uga.edu
706-542-8083
University of Georgia
22-May-2006


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