For stronger vaccines, pay attention to carbohydrates

Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) in Boston say they've developed a vaccine prototype that's 100 times more effective than traditional glycoconjugate vaccines--a commonly used vaccine design that features covalently bound carbohydrate and protein molecules. 

BWH researcher found that the body's immune system is able to recognize and respond to the carbohydrate components of a vaccine. It was previously believed that only the protein components of a vaccine could elicit an immune response. They tested this theory by injecting mice with two separate vaccines that contained the same protein but different carbohydrates. When the mice had similar responses to both vaccine types, the researchers knew that their immune systems were responding to the carbohydrates in the vaccines.

The BWH team then created a vaccine that yielded many carbohydrate particles when introduced to the immune system, according to a statement. By doing so they were able to design a vaccine that caused a much stronger immune response than those designed with only proteins in mind.  

"Carbohydrates are among the most abundant and structurally diverse molecules in nature," explained lead study author Fikri Avci in a release. "They are extremely important in many biological functions. A better understanding of carbohydrate interaction is crucial. We are hoping that our findings will provide a framework for production of new-generation therapeutics and preventive medicines not only against bacterial infections, but also for cancer and viral diseases." Their work was published in the December 2011 issue of Nature Medicine.

- here's the BWH release