Human trial for spoon-fed vaccines to begin

Human trials are soon to begin on an Australian-pioneered technique that could revolutionize the way we vaccinate — by replacing the syringe with the spoon, the Australian Associated Press reported Dec. 8.

Dr Barry Marshall, the Australian scientist who won a Nobel Prize for discovering the bacteria responsible for stomach ulcers, is working on a way to use those same bugs (Helicobacter pylori) to create edible vaccines.

It promises to make having your annual flu shot as painless as downing a spoonful of yogurt.

First, Marshall must solve a problem — the immune system does not normally react to food.

"Previously, people have looked at delivering vaccines on lactobacillus in yogurts, for example, but most of these products just look like food to the immune system and they are ignored," Marshall said.

"The new idea [is to use] the helicobacter, which infects your stomach temporarily.

"In the few days that it is sitting there it could be producing the vaccine, liberating it in the wall of your stomach where it is sensed by the immune system."

The trial, taking in 36 healthy volunteers in Perth, Australia, will begin in January. It will aim to find out which of a range of different strains of the unique bacteria, now known to be widespread and mostly harmless, had the most benign effect on gut.

"Half the people of the world are infected with it and most of them have no symptoms ... so that gives us a bit of confidence about the safety," Marshall said.

"We know exactly what happens when you get helicobacter — mostly nothing and sometimes an ulcer."

The initial trial will take about a year.

The process could also revolutionize the way vaccines are made. It could also hold the key to developing effective vaccines for the world's major diseases that have so far resisted decades of scientific effort.

"Nobody has succeeded with malaria, TB, HIV or hepatitis C at the moment and by having helicobacter delivering [a targeted vaccine] over many months then we may be able to get there," Marshall said.

Marshall was awarded the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with his research partner Dr. Robin Warren.