Case Western, Merck team spotlights vaccine response predictors

Using a "systems vaccinology" approach, researchers at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and Merck Research Laboratories have published findings that suggest a new way to predict and enhance vaccine effectiveness, in particular with hepatitis B vaccination.

Their work, published in Nature Communications, shows that by studying prevalent biomarkers of immune response and inflammation, researchers may be able to predict vaccine response. The knowledge could assist in forming vaccine schedules for older patients and may play a role in determining whether other means to boost effectiveness are appropriate, such as an anti-inflammatory medication.

In their study, the team found that higher expression of genes to enhance B-cell responses and higher memory B-cell frequencies were linked with stronger responses to hep B vaccination. Alternatively, higher levels of inflammatory response transcripts, among other variables, were consistent with weaker responses.

Case Western's Rafick-Pierre Sékaly

"We have known for some time that vaccine response changes with age, but we have not been clear on the mechanism nor the important role of inflammation," Rafick-Pierre Sékaly, a professor of immunopathogenesis at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, said in a statement. "By understanding the gene expression of immune inflammatory pathways, we believe that we are close to creating models to predict and improve vaccine response."

As populations get older in industrialized nations, health systems face an increased need to protect elderly patients from infections. However, vaccine efficacy can be reduced for the elderly due to changes to the immune system, leading researchers looking for new ways to better immunize them.

The findings are part of an approach to studying vaccine effectiveness using cellular and molecular responses called "systems vaccinology" that is also currently being deployed by an Emory University team. Led by Bali Pulendran, whose lab is credited with establishing the field, the Emory team received a $15 million NIH grant in September and will combine immunology, genomics and bioinformatics to study vaccine responses, starting with a GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) herpes zoster jab.

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