Safer viruses for vaccine research and diagnosis

Safer viruses for vaccine research and diagnosis
A 3D reconstruction of a chimeric viral particle. Proteins on the virus surface have been coloured using a rainbow gradient to represent the many possible viruses that could be presented using this system. This image, and all of the project's visualizations, were developed by UQ's Dr Daniel Watterson. Credit: Dr Daniel Watterson

A new technology to produce safer 'hybrid' viruses at high volumes for use in vaccines and diagnostics for mosquito-borne diseases has been developed at The University of Queensland.

Researchers from UQ and QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute have exploited the benign characteristics of the Binjari —inert to humans—to produce 'dangerous looking' mosquito-borne such as Zika and dengue, but which cannot grow in humans or animals.

School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences' Dr. Jody Hobson-Peters said the team, led by Professor Roy Hall, began to explore this possibility after discovering new viruses in the lab.

"We were originally hoping to gain insights into how mosquito-borne viral diseases evolve—viruses like Zika, and dengue," Dr. Hobson-Peters said.

"We were also hoping to discover new viruses that might be useful for biotechnology or as .

"The Binjari virus stood out, and while it grows to very high levels in mosquito cells in the lab, it's completely harmless and cannot infect humans or other .

"And it is incredibly tolerant for genetic manipulation, allowing us to swap important genes from pathogenic viruses like Zika, West Nile and dengue into the Binjari genome.

New insect virus provides a safer platform for flavivirus vaccines and tests
A micrograph image of the Binjaru and Zika virus chimera particles. Credit: J. Hobson-Peters et al., Science Translational Medicine (2019)

"This produces hybrid, or chimeric, viruses that physically appeared identical to the disease-causing viruses under the electron microscope, but were still unable to grow in human or animal cells."

The researchers have effectively developed a new biotechnology platform requiring low biocontainment, to help safely develop vaccines and diagnostics against these mosquito-borne diseases.

Professor Andreas Suhrbier, from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, said the team hoped to push this technology further down the development pathway toward human applications.

"The main advantage of this system is that it is safe," Professor Suhrbier said.

Video interview with Prof Roy Hall and Dr Jessica Harrison and laboratory footage with some data images. Credit: Filmed and produced by BioLab Collective - Dr Jack Wang, The University of Queensland. Music courtesy of

"These hybrids cannot infect humans, meaning that manufacture of vaccines and diagnostic reagents don't require the strict and expensive biosecurity infrastructure ordinarily needed to grow these pathogenic viruses.

"The research is a testament to collaborative science—this all fell into place, with amazing collaboration within the Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre.

"It's a technology that will truly revolutionise the manufacture of vaccines—supercharging high-volume development."

More information: J. Hobson-Peters el al., "A recombinant platform for flavivirus vaccines and diagnostics using chimeras of a new insect-specific virus," Science Translational Medicine (2019). … scitranslmed.aax7888

Journal information: Science Translational Medicine

Citation: Safer viruses for vaccine research and diagnosis (2019, December 11) retrieved 22 September 2023 from
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