AgResearch receives grant from Gates Foundation for TB research

An AgResearch scientist from Hopkirk Institute in Palmerston North, New Zealand, recently won a $100,000 global grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to research a new tuberculosis vaccination method.

Axel Heiser received the Grand Challenges Explorations grant to apply nano-particle technology to vaccinate against both human and bovine TB. The disease is a major problem for cattle worldwide and for people in multiple developing countries, Fairfax NZ News reports.

The research project uses PolyBatics, which is a type of nano-particle technology developed by Bernd Rehm at Massey University.

"(Rehm) showed how you could genetically modify bacteria to make little beads inside them which express antigens that work as a vaccine," Heiser said, according to Fairfax NZ News. "If we can prove our hypothesis that biobeads produced in mycobacteria can be used as a novel type of vaccine against mycobacterial infections, including tuberculosis, we could apply this approach to a whole range of infectious diseases."

Heiser received funding after submitting an application with his creative idea in one of five critical global health and development areas. The money will be used to try to prove the validity of the technology for developing a TB vaccine. The concept will soon be tested on mice.

"If (the mice are protected), that is 'proof of principle' and we would then go into a round of funding for the following year, which can be $1 million," Heiser said, according to Fairfax NZ News.

Heiser said that a veterinary vaccine was likely to be developed first and that a TB vaccine for humans would require additional time, Fairfax NZ News reports.