More about the science

Vaccines are difficult to make because of the ever-changing landscape of proteins on the surfaces of pathogens.  The dynamic nature of the microbial surface contributes to the ability of the organism to survive and is thus a challenge to overcome. A suite of technologies have been or are being developed to make vaccine development more systematic and predictable. High-throughput technologies for assembling pathogen genes and assessing their vaccine potential are a primary focus.

These core capabilities include:

  • Gene gun: a simple devise to “shoot” gene-coated gold microprojectiles into cells of intact animals.
  • Genetic immunization: a method to immunize by shooting in plasmids encoding antigens.
  • Expression Library Immunization: a technique to reduce a pathogen genome to vaccines.
  • Linear Expression Elements: a system to transform cells without cloning genes.
  • High-throughput antibody production: a developed system to make antibodies in high number.
  • In vivo pathogen gene expression analysis: arrayed technologies to measure global gene expression of the pathogen in host.

Traditionally, vaccines consist of genetic material from a pathogen that can serve as an antigen for the immune system to attack.  Once antibodies are made by the body, a person is immune to any microbes with the antigen that may invade the body.  The trick is finding the right antigens.

The novel method we are employing uses fragments of DNA from the pathogen of interest to determine which sections are relevant to the immune response.  Those segments of genetic material are then tested for efficiency in generating immunity to the disease.  This rapid, unconstrained approach to vaccine development will make vaccine creation much more predictable and standardized.

The second focus of this project, the vaccine delivery system, will be engineered in a way that will maximize containment of the vaccine.  To virtually eliminate the chance of cross-species infections, a non-pathogenic strain of swinepox will be used to deliver the vaccine to the host pigs.  This approach will also enhance the immunization process since the virus naturally prefers to live in pigs’ bodies.