Flynn-Led Team Gets $5 Million Grant to Make Vaccine Component That Stimulates TB-Fighting Cells

Issue Date: 
April 15, 2013

Researchers in the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have received a $5 million federal grant to develop a vaccine ingredient that can generate the type of immune response needed to protect against tuberculosis (TB) infection.

Vaccines are primarily made of antigens and another component called an adjuvant. Antigens are pieces of proteins from specific bacteria or viruses, and adjuvants stimulate the immune system’s production of antibodies against the vaccine antigen, explained principal investigator JoAnne L. Flynn, professor of microbiology and molecular genetics, Pitt School of Medicine, and a member of Pitt’s Center for Vaccine Research.

“Nearly all of the vaccines administered today use similar adjuvants derived from alum salts,” she said. “That works well when an antibody response to an invading germ is needed, but it is not very effective against the bacteria that cause TB.”An adjuvant can program the correct T-cells of the immune system to respond when TB exposure occurs, and that could make vaccines against the infection more effective, Flynn said.

Flynn and her team will collaborate with scientists from Copenhagen’s Statens Serum Institut who are developing a new adjuvant that induced CD4 and CD8 T-cell responses in animal studies. They will devise several vaccine formulations with input from Flynn’s team. 

The project is funded for five years by the National Institutes of Health.