Researchers develop new method to identify vaccine targets

Researchers have identified a new means of developing vaccine targets that may allow them to cut off certain types of evolutionary defenses.

Decades of research and numerous clinical trials have failed to yield results in a search for effective vaccines for illness like HIV because viruses evolve so rapidly that they evade vaccine-induced immune responses.

Scientists from the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard University recently developed a new approach to vaccine design that may negate the evolutionary advantages held by viruses. They have successfully created a computational method capable of analyzing viral protein sequences to determine how different viral strains reproduce in the human body.

This knowledge can potentially allow researchers to identify viral vulnerabilities that can then be exploited as targets for new vaccines.

The team, led by MIT professor Arup Chakraborty, has designed protein fragments, or peptides, to target the weaknesses. Researchers from the Ragon Institute are in the process of designing ways to deliver the peptides for use in animal studies.

"We think that, if it continues to be validated against laboratory and clinical data, this method could be quite useful for rational design of the active component of a vaccine for diverse viruses," Chakraborty said. "Furthermore, if delivered properly, the peptides we have designed may be able to mount potent responses against HIV across a population."