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Blue-sky thinking about vaccine development

6 May 2020

Professor Christiane Berger-Schaffitzel speaks about creating a new type of vaccine which can be stored at room temperatures

Professor Christiane Berger Schaffitzel, of the School of Biochemistry, has spoken to Times Higher Education about work being undertaken with the National Centre for Scientific Research in Grenoble. A joint team of researchers from Bristol and Grenoble have made a huge breakthrough by creating a new type of vaccine that can be produced quickly and at large volumes, and can be stored at room temperature – which could lead to the first-ever vaccine against the mosquito-borne Chikungunya virus. As yet, there is no way to inoculate against this infectious disease, which is typically found in sub-Saharan Africa and causes headaches, vomiting, joint pain and even death.

The team of researchers have combined cryo-electron microscopy, synthetic biology and high-performance computing to model and create a Chikungunya vaccine candidate. And not before time – the virus is spreading as climate change and deforestation drive mosquitos out of their natural habitat, leading to outbreaks in the United States and Europe.

“I think this is a good example of how modern science is done – you’ll rarely do this by yourself in your own lab,” says Professor Berger-Schaffitzel.

The vaccine candidate uses a synthetic protein particle called ADDomer, which resembles a virus but contains no genetic material – making it a safe way to deliver the vaccine. The researchers have engineered its surface to resemble Chikungunya “epitopes”, the parts of a virus that dock with human cells and trigger the body’s immune defences.

But what Professor Berger-Schaffitzel says is “quite exceptional” is that the particle is stable at room temperature. Normally, vaccines must be refrigerated to remain effective.

Read more about this story on the Times Higher Education website: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/hub/university-bristol/p/blue-sky-thinking-about-vaccine-development

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