Gates Foundation aids AgResearch TB vaccine study

ALI TOCKER AND JILL GALLOWAY
Last updated 12:00 07/11/2012

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A researcher at Palmerston North's Hopkirk Institute has won a global grant to research a new way of vaccinating against both human and bovine tuberculosis, using nano-particle technology.

Senior scientist Dr Axel Heiser works for AgResearch which is to receive a US$100,000 (NZ$121,000) Grand Challenges Explorations grant funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. TB is a significant problem for cattle worldwide and an ongoing challenge in New Zealand, as well as a significant issue for people in developing countries.

Dr Heiser said his research project would use "the nano-particle technology of PolyBatics", developed by Professor Bernd Rehm at Massey University.

"He showed how you could genetically modify bacteria to make little beads inside them which express antigens that work as a vaccine," Dr Heiser said.

"If we can prove our hypothesis that biobeads produced in mycobacteria can be used as a novel type of vaccine against mycobacterial infections, including tuberculosis, we could apply this approach to a whole range of infectious diseases."

Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) funded individuals worldwide who were taking innovative approaches to some of the world's toughest and persistent global health and development challenges, AgResearch said.

It invests in the early stages of "bold ideas" that have real potential to solve the problems people in the developing world face every day.

To receive funding, Dr Heiser and other GCE round winners demonstrated in a two-page online application a creative idea in one of five critical global heath and development topic areas.

Dr Heiser said the money would be used to try to prove the idea of using nano-particle technology to develop a TB vaccine was valid.

He said the concept would be tested on mice to see if they were protected from the disease.

"If they are, that is ‘proof of principle' and we would then go into a round of funding for the following year, which can be US$1 million."

Dr Heiser said a veterinary vaccine was more likely to be developed first. That also fitted with AgResearch's expertise. A TB vaccine for people would need more time.

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- Manawatu Standard

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