New discovery in battle against plague and bacterial pneumonias

Researchers from the Smiley lab at the Trudeau Institute have now identified a single component of the plague causing bacterium that can be used as a vaccine. This single "subunit" could potentially be used to create a safer form of a T cell-stimulating plague vaccine. The new data is featured in the July issue of The Journal of Immunology.

"To date, there has been little progress in the development of safe and effective vaccines for plague or similar bioweapons," said Dr. Stephen Smiley, a leading plague researcher and Trudeau Institute faculty member. "Our data identifies a single component of the plague causing bacterium seen by . This could be a key discovery as we seek to develop a plague vaccine."

The lab envisions that this subunit might be added to others already being studied for their ability to induce . Together, these multiple subunits might safely induce both antibody and T , thereby better combating plague.

According to Dr. Smiley, there is no licensed plague vaccine in the United States. Together with postdoctoral associate Jr-Shiuan Lin, he is working to develop a vaccine that will protect members of the armed services and public from a "plague bomb."

Plague is caused by Yersinia pestis, arguably the most known to man. Yersinia pestis infections of the lung, known as pneumonic plague, are extremely lethal and usually lead to death within a week of infection.

This could be a major discovery in the ongoing battle between scientists working to develop a vaccine to protect against plague and the terrorists who seek to use plague as a weapon. Many of the highest priority bio-terror concerns are caused by bacteria that acutely infect the lung. These include anthrax, and plague.

Most of the plague that have been studied aim to stimulate to produce plague-fighting antibodies. However, animal studies suggest that antibodies may not be enough to protect humans from pneumonic plague. The Smiley laboratory has shown that T cells can also fight plague. The lab previously demonstrated that an immunization with an experimental vaccine stimulates the production of T cells that provide partial protection against pneumonic plague. This vaccine consisted of a live but weakened version of the plague causing bacterium.

Live vaccines are often effective, but they can be difficult to license because they have the potential to grow within immunocompromised recipients and inadvertently cause disease.

Additionally, Dr. Smiley believes these studies may help us learn to combat other kinds of pneumonia: "Bacterial pneumonia is one of the most common causes of death in hospitals and, like plague, many of these pneumonias are caused by bacteria that we may need to combat with both antibodies and T cells."

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Plague researchers race to beat bioterrorists

Sep 20, 2010

Given the many pressing concerns of the day, fear of plague probably isn't what causes most Americans to lose sleep. But for those whose responsibility it is to combat bioterrorism, plague is among the highest ...

Mimic molecules to protect against plague

Jul 04, 2008

Bacteria that cause pneumonic plague can evade our first-line defences, making it difficult for the body to fight infection. In fact, a signature of the plague is the lack of an inflammatory response. Now, scientists have ...

The plague tracked in Denver

May 11, 2007

Denver officials warned people to stay away from squirrels as they monitored what could be an outbreak of the plague.

Denver Zoo monkey dies of plague

May 22, 2007

A hooded capuchin monkey at the Denver Zoo has died of the plague, which officials suspect was transmitted by a squirrel.

Recommended for you

Growing a blood vessel in a week

Oct 24, 2014

The technology for creating new tissues from stem cells has taken a giant leap forward. Three tablespoons of blood are all that is needed to grow a brand new blood vessel in just seven days. This is shown ...

Testing time for stem cells

Oct 24, 2014

DefiniGEN is one of the first commercial opportunities to arise from Cambridge's expertise in stem cell research. Here, we look at some of the fundamental research that enables it to supply liver and pancreatic ...

Team finds key signaling pathway in cause of preeclampsia

Oct 23, 2014

A team of researchers led by a Wayne State University School of Medicine associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology has published findings that provide novel insight into the cause of preeclampsia, the leading cause ...

Rapid test to diagnose severe sepsis

Oct 23, 2014

A new test, developed by University of British Columbia researchers, could help physicians predict within an hour if a patient will develop severe sepsis so they can begin treatment immediately.

User comments