Rheumatic fever vaccine trials begin

Scientists in Australia and New Zealand recently began human trials of a rheumatic fever vaccine following 20 years of research by an Australian professor.

Rheumatic fever is caused by a bacterial infection that can cause major damage to the heart. Parts of Australia have the highest rates of rheumatic fever in the world, AAP reports.

Michael Good, a professor at Griffith University's Institute for Glycomics, developed the vaccine with scientists from the Queensland Institute of Medical Research.

"Infection rates in remote indigenous communities in Queensland are among the highest in the world," Good said, according to AAP. "Nine out of 10 people affected in this state are indigenous."

The vaccine prevents an infection with Streptococcus A, the bacteria that causes the disease. Studies in animal models demonstrated that the vaccine was able to trigger the production of antibodies by the immune system to kill the bacteria.

"Previous studies have shown the vaccine induces a very effective immune response in rabbits and mice," Good said, according to AAP. "The next important step is to ensure it is safe and does not cause any adverse effects in people, in particular that the vaccine itself doesn't cause any heart damage."

Earlier this month, Sir Peter David Gluckman, the chief science adviser to New Zealand's prime minister, announced a $3 million research collaboration between New Zealand and Australia to develop vaccines against rheumatic fever, reports.