Vaccines

Test-tube Immune Systems Can Speed Vaccine Development

FILE - A health agent prepares a vaccine during a campaign of vaccination against yellow fever in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, March 25, 2017.
FILE – A health agent prepares a vaccine during a campaign of vaccination against yellow fever in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, March 25, 2017.

WASHINGTON —

New technology allows scientists working on new vaccines to combat infectious diseases to test their products’ effectiveness on a model immune system in a laboratory, without putting the upgraded vaccine into humans.

Researchers have begun building model immune systems using human cells, and this lab technique should make early vaccine trials quicker, safer and cheaper, according to scientists in the United States and Britain involved in this novel approach. The technology also has the potential to be used to mass produce antibodies in the lab to supplement real immune systems that are compromised, or battling pathogens like Ebola.

A report announcing the new “in vitro booster vaccination” technique was published Monday in The Journal of Experimental Medicine, a prestigious peer-reviewed medical journal published by the Rockefeller University Press. The research project involved produced antibodies that attack strains of tetanus, HIV and influenza.

Selecting specific antibodies

When a pathogen invades the body, the immune system develops antibodies specific to that pathogen. The antibodies latch onto the pathogen and either flag it for destruction, disrupt the life cycle of the pathogen, or do nothing.

Before now, when scientists tried to get immune cells in the lab to produce antibodies, the cells would do so indiscriminately, producing all sorts of antibodies, not just the relevant ones. Now scientists are able to get the antibodies they…