Jefferson and Molecular Targeting Technologies, Inc. scientists create vaccine for wildlife rabies

While the raccoon that raids your trash at night may look cute and mischievous, think again. Its claws can be nasty. Even worse, it might carry rabies.

Now, scientists at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia and at Molecular Targeting Technologies, Inc. (MTTI) in West Chester, Pa., are taking steps to prevent the disease. They have created a more powerful, safer vaccine than currently is available to combat rabies in wildlife.

Wildlife rabies is no small matter in this country. It's particularly prevalent along the East Coast, and more than 90 percent of reported cases of rabies in all are in wildlife. Raccoons are the most affected, with skunk a close second. Worldwide, and especially in underdeveloped nations, rabies takes a large human toll: More than 60,000 human deaths a year.

In work published December 9 in the journal Vaccine, researchers led by Bernhard Dietzschold, DVM, professor of microbiology and immunology at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University, created a new live rabies vaccine by manipulating the virus itself, making it much weaker than before. The scientists also made the vaccine much more immunogenic, meaning it aroused a much more robust response from the immune system.

"The advantages of our vaccine are its lack of pathogenicity and the fact that it's much more immunogenic," he says. Live virus vaccines always carry the potential to actually cause the disease they are designed to prevent.

"We have developed a very specific rabies vaccine which displays high titers and the lack of pathogenicity for immunocompetent mice even after many passages," says Dr. Dietzschold, meaning that the vaccine retained its potency over time. "This novel rabies vaccine will be an excellent candidate for immunization of stray dogs and wildlife."

"We have found a master key to turn on and off the pathogenicity of the virus," says Chris Pak, Ph.D., MTTI president and CEO. "We are extremely pleased with these p


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