Pneumococcal meningitis is a life threatening form of bacterial meningitis. Like other types of meningitis, it can develop quickly and in its early stages may be mistaken for a less serious illness, such as flu. Even with antibiotic treatment, the outcome of pneumococcal meningitis is often poor – approximately 15% of cases result in death, while 25% of those who survive can be left with severe and disabling after effects, such as brain damage, hearing loss, epilepsy and speech problems. Prevention of disease through vaccination is the most effective way of saving lives.
Pneumococcal meningitis is caused by a bacterium called the pneumococcus. There are over 90 different strains of pneumococcal bacteria and each strain has a different sugary coat called the capsule. Existing vaccines are based on these capsule sugars and prevent disease caused by some, but not all, pneumococcal strains. All strains of the pneumococcus have potential to cause disease and strains not covered by existing vaccines are becoming more common in the community. Cheaper and more effective vaccines that will protect against all pneumococcal strains are therefore urgently needed.
What the research team will do
This project aims to make a better pneumococcal vaccine by using proteins that are present in all pneumococci. The research team have developed a new technique called Protein Glycan Coupling Technology (PGCT) which uses bacterial enzymes to combine capsules (sugars) and proteins.
Using PGCT, they plan to combine four proteins found in all pneumococcal strains to a pneumococcal capsule. They will then test the novel vaccine candidates separately and in combination to assess the immune response. Once the best combinations have been identified, they will be tested for how effective they are at preventing two strains of meningitis which cause infection in different ways.
How this research will help fight meningitis
This project will help us in our fight against meningitis by establishing whether PGCT technology could be used to develop a better pneumococcal vaccine. If it is effective, it would potentially provide means to make a cheaper, more flexible vaccine that protects against all strains of pneumococci, rather than a minority. This would be a major step towards making the devastation of meningitis a thing of the past. This project has additional value as the findings may also be applied to vaccines which protect against other meningitis-causing bacteria such as Neisseria meningitidis, which causes meningococcal disease, and Haemophilus influenza, which causes Hib meningitis.
Progress so far
This is a three year project which started in October 2014. In their first year, the team reached an important milestone by successfully combining one of the candidate proteins to the pneumcoccoal capsule. While they begin testing this combination for potential to protect against pneumococcal disease they will continue to work on other protein combinations.
Help support this research
This research is only made possible by the generous support of people like YOU. Help us continue by donating, or raising funds for our work. On behalf of everyone who will benefit, now and in the future, thank you.
Prof Jeremy Brown, Prof Brendan Wren, Prof James Paton
University College London
If you would like more information about this project, or our research in general, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org