From a universal flu vaccine that could save us from a pandemic, to vaccines that target ticks and mosquitoes, Horizon looks at the science of vaccines during the month of February.
The bacteria that causes TB infects over a quarter of the world’s population, and we speak to the European scientists who are closing in on a vaccine for the disease that could save millions of lives.
We also look at the rise of measles and mumps as a result of fears over the MMR vaccination – and interview researchers who are collecting information to try to prevent unnecessary future vaccine scares.
The race for a vaccine against the novel coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2, is on, with 54 different vaccines under development, two of which are already being tested in humans, according to the World Health Organization. And among the different candidates is a new player on the scene – mRNA vaccines.
Nearly 100 years ago scientists developed a vaccine for tuberculosis (TB). Today, there are 10 million new cases worldwide and 1.6 million deaths from the disease every year. Increasingly, these cases are becoming difficult to treat as the bug that causes the disease can be resistant to antibiotics. However, several new TB vaccines are under development and there is growing optimism that a new vaccine will emerge, says Helen McShane, professor of vaccinology at Oxford University, UK. This could save millions of lives, she said, but more work is needed to reassure the general public that vaccines are safe and effective.
The rise of alternative health practices and a quest for purity can partly explain the falling confidence in vaccines which is driving outbreaks of preventable diseases such as measles, according to Heidi Larson, professor of anthropology, risk and decision medicine at the UK’s London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. She is working to understand the causes of vaccine hesitancy in order to devise ways of rebuilding trust.
The fight against poverty-related diseases is gaining ground as scientists prepare trials of vaccines for hookworm, leishmaniasis and other parasitic diseases common in the developing world, thanks to the support of public research funding.
The days when measles was a killer disease affecting thousands are firmly in the past thanks to mass immunisations. However, a fall in vaccination rates means the disease is starting to make an unwelcome comeback in Europe – and European scientists have found a way to help.
Efforts to design a safe vaccine for Covid-19 are moving forward at full throttle, yet experts agree that it’s likely to be a year, at least, before an immunisation is ready. Meanwhile, scientists around Europe are exploring ingenious ways – including with the help of alpacas – to use the latest techniques in molecular manipulation to repair coronavirus-induced lung damage or to block the virus before it wreaks havoc.
Transfusing antibodies from Covid-19 survivors into seriously ill patients could provide a quick treatment win, but a more selective approach may both treat and prevent the disease. A single, highly-effective antibody that is mass-produced like a drug could combine the benefits of antivirals and a vaccine for at-risk individuals such as health workers.
The iridescence of marble berries and the clever, light-bending perforations of microalgae are some lessons from nature that scientists are drawing upon to create biodegradable glitter and makeup pigments, and bionic algae to use in lasers or to clean pollutants.
How do you feed a city? It is one of the great questions of our time. After all, for a species that ultimately depends on plants to feed ourselves, we do tend to cram ourselves into places that are rather unfriendly towards them. Our cities are built around cars, offices and perhaps the odd park – not fields of crops.
Scientists are drawing on nature’s clever ways to build structures and produce iridescence.
Infection-halting therapies being explored include neutralising antibodies.
Metagenomics can help us spot emerging diseases such as coronavirus, says virologist Marion Koopmans.