Editors' ChoiceVaccines

Focusing In on Virus Inactivation

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Science Translational Medicine  11 Jul 2012:
Vol. 4, Issue 142, pp. 142ec120
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3004560

The immune system is an impressionist; it captures the essence of invading pathogens but not all of their subtle details. When challenged with a vaccine, the immune system’s already unfocused view is further skewed by changes introduced to the virus by viral inactivation techniques. Now, Amanna et al. give the immune system clearer focus on the pathogen by providing a mechanism of viral inactivation that leaves the virus’s relevant targets mostly intact.

Current methods of virus inactivation for vaccine development are plagued by lack of efficacy and safety. In the process of killing the virus, inactivation solutions such as formaldehyde disrupt the viral particles that the immune system recognizes. Without appropriate viral targets, the immune system can fail to generate a vaccine response; or worse, the immune system can provoke an overwhelming, deleterious response when the pathogen actually infects. Amanna and colleagues first compared the ability of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) with standard solutions for safely inactivating viral pathogens. After showing that H2O2 efficiently killed viruses, they tested the ability of H2O2 to preserve the immunogenicity of the killed virus. H2O2-prepared vaccine resulted in better B and T cell recall responses after vaccination and better protection from yellow fever virus and West Nile virus infection.

These studies were performed in mice exclusively, but the viruses tested have direct relevance to human disease. There currently is no vaccine to West Nile virus and no inactivated vaccine for yellow fever. By allowing the immune system to focus on the correct target, this virus-killing technique could advance the development of more efficacious vaccines.

I. J. Amanna et al. Development of a new hydrogen peroxide–based vaccine platform. Nat. Med. 18, 974–979 (2012). [Abstract]

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