Fungi Fighting Vaccines: The First Experimental Vaccine
The vaccine prevented the deaths and severe infections caused by three fungi that frequently sicken people in animal experiments.
The Last of Us, eat you heart out. Researchers at the University of Georgia claim to have developed a vaccine that can protect against dangerous fungi. The vaccine prevented the deaths and severe infections from three types fungi that can often cause opportunistic illnesses in animals. The team plans to begin early human trials.
Fungi are less common than bacteria and viruses, but they can still cause serious illness. Our bodies are too hot to support most fungi, and our immune system does a good job keeping potential infections at bay. Many experts fear that climate change could lead to more fungal disease. Fungal infections can cause serious illness even today, especially for those with compromised immune systems or who are in poorer health. Fungal infections will increase as more people are living with conditions that weaken their immune systems, such as those who are undergoing cancer treatment. These infections are more difficult to treat and prevent than others, as there are not many approved antifungal medications and no vaccines.
Researchers at the University of Georgia believe they have made a significant step forward in protecting people against these worst-case scenarios. The experimental vaccine is designed to protect immunocompromised individuals against three of the most deadly fungi known to cause fatal infections in people: Aspergillus and Pneumocystis. The vaccine is expected to work by training your immune system to recognize a pan-fungal protein shared by these fungi. This should strengthen your immunity to all three.
They have tested their vaccine in mice and rhesus monkeys. After both groups were deliberately suppressed by their immune systems and exposed to the fungi, these experiments compared the results of vaccinated animals with those of non-vaccinated. The animals produced antibodies against the pan-fungal protein, as was expected. The vaccine was effective in preventing invasive infections and deaths caused by the fungi. For example, none of the vaccinated macaques were exposed to Pneumocystis, which can lead to severe infections. This compares to the more than half who were unvaccinated. The team's findings were published in PNAS Nexus late last year." Because it target three different pathogens the vaccine has potential to be revolutionary regarding invasive fungal infections," stated Karen Norris (a professor in UGA's College of Veterinary Medicine), in a statement.
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According to the authors' research, approximately 13 million serious fungal infections are reported each year worldwide. These three fungi are responsible for a large portion of the infections, and they're also responsible for more than 80% of all fungal-related deaths. Another study by the same authors found that fungal infections cost the U.S. $6.7 billion annually in direct medical expenses.
These early results are encouraging, but the real test lies ahead. The team is currently preparing for a Phase I study of their vaccine. This will evaluate its safety and immune response in healthy volunteers.