Pneumococcal meningitis research Liverpool

The preclinical development and evaluation of a mucosal protein-based adjuvanted vaccine against pneumococcal meningitis and sepsis

University of Liverpool Research

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. More effective vaccines that will protect against all pneumococcal strains are therefore urgently needed.

What the research team will do

In this cutting edge research project, Professor Kadioglu and his team will work towards making a better pneumococcal vaccine. This work follows on from a very successful 3 year research project at University of Liverpool, led by Professor Aras Kadioglu and Dr Dean Everett. That work enabled the identification of lead candidate proteins for the design of a new vaccine against pneumococcal meningitis, which could provide protection across all pneumococcal strains.

Building on that work, the team’s main goal is to evaluate how best to use these proteins to create a new, more effective vaccine that can be given to babies. Babies and young children are particularly vulnerable to disease. They are also those most likely to carry and transmit the bacteria. Effective vaccination in young children is therefore of most benefit to the population at large.

They have three main aims:

  • To test how well their vaccine works in meningitis and sepsis infection models
  • To examine how to make the vaccine most effective, by assessing how to make use of adjuvants (‘boosting agents’ used to get a better immune response in vaccines)
  • To test how effective the new vaccine formulations are using models which indicate what immune responses would be in infants and adult

If successful, the research could progress to human trials.

How this project will help us fight meningitis

This project will help us in our fight against meningitis by enabling development of the next generation of pneumococcal vaccines which are particularly effective in infants and young children, offering broader and better protection than existing vaccines. This would be a major step towards making the devastation of bacterial meningitis a thing of the past. The research team expect their findings will also be relevant to other meningitis-causing bacteria such as Neisseria meningitidis and Escherichia coli.


This three-year project started in September 2016.

September 2017: During the first year, this project has progressed well against its aims. In this time, the team has accomplished the following:

  • Training in all experimental approaches that will be required during the project
  • Cloning and expression of the vaccine protein candidates is ongoing and will be followed by purification of these proteins 
  • Pneumococcal bacteria mutants that lack each of the three vaccine candidate proteins have been generated. These will help the research team investigate the precise contribution of each protein in the onset and progression of pneumococcal meningitis
  • The impact of two different adjuvants in the vaccine formulation has been investigated.  The results are encouraging and suggest that these adjuvants are able to establish robust and enhanced protection
  • State-of-the-art imaging has been used to investigate the progression of pneumococcal infection from the back of the throat to the meninges. This work has shown that following infection, pneumococcal bacteria quickly cause damaging inflammatory responses in the meninges. This is the first time such a study has been done in pneumococcal infection and highlights the need to develop meningitis vaccine strategies that prevent early onset damaging inflammation

November 2018: Significant progress has been made during the second year of the project; towards both the development of a new vaccine formulation that will offer broad protection against pneumococcal meningitis, and in the understanding of how pneumococcal bacteria actually cause meningitis.

  • A PhD student, funded through the University of Liverpool - Mahidol PhD programme, has joined the group. He has focused on understanding the immune system dynamics of pneumococcal meningitis and how these dynamics are affected by immunisation.
  • The mutant pneumococcal bacteria previously generated have been used to improve understanding of the role of vaccine candidate proteins in colonisation and in the development of pneumonia, sepsis and meningitis.
  • Several different adjuvants have been combined with pneumococcal proteins; these formulations are being tested in mice to determine their effectiveness as vaccines to protect against pneumococcal meningitis.

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 Aras Kadioglu, Dr Marie Yang, Dr Dean Everett

Research Institution

University of Liverpool

More information

If you would like more information about this project, or our research in general, please contact