McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

McMaster researchers race to SARS vaccine development

Published: October 1, 2003

Researchers at McMaster University have turned a corner in the race to develop a vaccine for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

A breakthrough has come with the work by professor Jim Mahony who cloned the gene that marks an important nuclear protein of the SARS virus. A research team at McMaster then inserted the nuclear protein gene into an engineered common cold virus, or adenovirus vector, and will shortly test this in animals for the protective effects.

The team, headed by Jack Gauldie, chair of the department of pathology and molecular medicine and director of the Centre for Gene Therapeutics, includes professors Frank Graham, Mary Hitt and Mahony of the department of pathology and molecular medicine, along with professor Ludvik Prevec and technologist Uma Sankar of the department of biology.

Mahony's discovery was made using DNA sequence data from the SARS Vaccine Initiative (SAVI) of the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, one of several laboratories the McMaster team is working with to develop a SARS vaccine based on the adenovirus vector that would act as a carrier within the body.

The McMaster group is also working with the SARS Initiative of the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) and the National Centres of Excellence in Vaccine and Immunotherapy (CANVAC).

"This is an important step that will allow us to immediately determine whether we can provide protection against this virus with proper immunization," said Gauldie.

Dr. Mark Loeb, director of the Canadian SARS Research Network, says the discovery is an excellent next step in the development of a SARS vaccine.

"SARS is a deadly disease, particularly dangerous to those with compromised health," said Loeb, who is also an infectious disease specialist at McMaster University. "The development of a vaccine is important in ensuring Canadians are better protected against a reoccurrence of the syndrome."

Through the SAVI collaboration, the McMaster team obtained genes that encode important markers of the SARS virus. As a vaccine these genes are inserted into the backbone of the adenovirus that could then be administered directly to humans to produce a protective immune response.

Since SARS is a respiratory virus, the response must protect the lung surface from infection. Adenovirus vaccines are excellent candidates for this mucosal vaccine approach. In addition to generating strong antibody responses, the modified virus vaccine can also add lymphocyte-mediated protection, an important component of the body's defence system that seeks and destroys viral-infected cells.

The McMaster team is well connected to carry out this cutting edge research. Recently supported by the Ontario Research and Development Challenge Fund initiative to provide new vectors for gene therapy, the team is known around the world for their expertise in immunology and vaccine development.

With SAVI, the McMaster team has also produced a second SARS vaccine candidate. Depending on the outcome of the animal studies, both potential vaccines could be ready to test in human trials within the year.

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