Breakthroughs made in search for meningococcus B vaccine

New research is bringing scientists closer to the development of a vaccine that is capable of protecting against hundreds of strains of meningococcus B, the most common cause of bacterial meningitis.

Vaccines currently exist that cover four or five types of the bacteria that cause bacterial meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal chord that can cause brain damage and death, according to Developing a more effective vaccine, however, has been challenging because there are over 300 known strains of the bacteria.

In a new study, the University of Florence bioengineered 54 immunogens, which are substances that provoke an immune response. They tested these immunogens in mice for the development of antibodies when exposed to strains of meningococcus B.

The researchers narrowed down the field of immunogens to eight, which were again tested in mouse models against a more diverse and larger group of meningococcus B strains. This led them to find the most promising candidate of the initial 54.

"The cool thing about what these researchers did is that they bioengineered their own variant," Dr. Alka Khaitan, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at New York University, said, reports. "The new technology would allow us to look at all the variations and then pick and choose the ones that are likely to be protective."

Khaitan also said that if the technology used in the study became widely available, it could pave the way for the development of vaccines to treat diseases like malaria and HIV, which also have many variations that have hampered researchers.