Replica vaccine offers new strategy in fight against polio

Backed with funds from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, an international team of top vaccine researchers has come together to explore the potential of a new type of polio vaccine that "tricks" the body into mounting an attack against the disease.

Harvard University, Oxford, the UK's National Institute for Biological Standards and Control as well as the University of Leeds joined the academic consortium to develop a synthetic virus--really an empty protein shell--that mimics the polio virus. "This is an entirely new strategic approach against polio," the University of Leeds' Dr. Nicola Stonehouse tells the BBC. "The project is not about improving the efficiency of the current types of vaccine. Our intention is to design and produce a replica virus particle."

"With polio, the virus particle's surface matures and changes because of the genetic material inside, and so ensuring that our replica particle mimics this surface exactly is not going to be easy," says Professor Dave Rowlands from the University of Leeds. "Since it's essentially an empty protein shell, it also has to be robust enough that it doesn't fall apart. This will be an iterative process, where we keep testing, refining and improving the particles we design until we achieve exactly the right structure and surface."

By focusing on a synthetic replica the investigators hope to advance a new vaccine that's cheap to make, doesn't have to be refrigerated and should be completely safe. But first they'll need to determine just how efficacious it is.

- see the University of Leeds release
- and check out the story from the BBC