8 Mar 2018

New molecule could strengthen vaccines

5:02 pm on 8 March 2018

A group of researchers say they've developed a molecule that may be able to strengthen current vaccines and help in the development of new ones.

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Photo: AFP

Research leader, Dr Bridget Stocker said the molecule, also known as an adjuvant, could be added to pre-existing vaccines.

"When you develop vaccines these days there tends to be two components; one is an antigen which gives you a specific immune response and the other is component is called an adjuvant which enhances the immune response," she said.

Once added, it unlocks a powerful reaction that combats harmful bacteria and viruses.

This reaction could also decrease the need for booster shots.

"It's very much early days but there are some vaccines, for example Whooping Cough is one of them, for which the vaccines are there, they work well, but as most people know, especially people with young children, you need to have multiple booster shots," she said.

"You actually lose immunity over the course of time."

She said the molecule could play a role in the future development of vaccines for HIV, Tuberculosis and Meningitis.

There was also the potential for it to help in the treatment of cancer, by boosting the immune cells needed to shrink tumours.

However, Dr Stocker admitted the research in that area was still in its infancy.

"It's a similar kind of idea in that you add this compound...and it boosts the type of immune cells that might be needed to see tumour regression," she said.

The research was funded by the Health and Research council, who invested $500,000 into the project.

Council CEO Kath McPherson said she couldn't be more excited with the results.

"What I like in this research is the opportunity for it to be used not just for improving treatment, but improving prevention because that means it can benefit everybody," she said.

Dr Stocker said she now wants to share the molecule with other scientists who can investigate it's effects further.

She said it could take up to twenty years before the molecule is introduced into general medicine, due to the rigorous testing required.

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