Meningococcal bacteria are a common cause of meningitis and septicaemia. Five groups of these bacteria cause most of the disease (A, B, C, W and Y) and well established vaccines exist for A, C, W and Y. It has been difficult to develop a vaccine against Men B but in 2015 a new Men B vaccine was introduced to the UK vaccination programme.
This is a huge breakthrough in the fight against this disease but unfortunately the vaccine is not predicted to protect against all Men B bacteria that cause disease. These non-vaccine preventable strains are likely to continue causing death and disability and there is therefore an urgent need to develop vaccines which prevent infection caused by all meningococcal bacteria.
What the research team will do
Previous research has shown that these bacteria have a number of proteins on their surface, which appear to increase their ability to avoid being killed by our natural defences. One way in which this may occur is by the bacteria binding to our own molecules, which normally stop our defences damaging our own bodies. Some bacterial proteins which do this are already showing promise as part of a vaccine against meningococcal bacteria. The researchers have identified the interaction of two meningococcal proteins (Msf and Opc) with a human defence inhibitor protein (vitronectin). Their main aim is to test if the parts of the bacterial proteins which bind to human vitronectin create an immune response that will kill meningococcal bacteria. These regions will be tested for their suitability as part of a vaccine against the different groups of bacteria.
How this research will help fight meningitis
Vaccines are the only way to protect people from the devastation of meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia. While amazing progress has been made, there is still no vaccine that can protect against all meningococcal bacteria. If Professor Virji and her team are successful this research will take us one step closer to a vaccine that would completely protect the UK from this disease.
Progress so far
This is a two year project which started in August 2014.
In their first year the team have made great progress and reached a number of milestones. Their work has been focussed on the two vaccine candidates Msf and Opc. Using bioinformatic analysis they have found Opc is present in most meningococcal bacteria, while Msf is found in all. The team will now work on testing whether antibodies produced in response to these proteins can fight meningococcal bacteria, including those not covered by the Men B vaccine.
Identification and therapeutic potential of a vitronectin binding region of meningococcal Msf. Hill DJ, Griffiths NJ, Borodina E, Andreae CA, Sessions RB, Virji M. PLoS One, 2015 Mar 31;10(3):e0124133. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0124133.
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.
Professor Mumtaz Virji, Dr Darryl Hill
University of Bristol
If you would like more information about this project, or our research in general, please contact Jane on JaneB@meningitisnow.org