Researchers target vaccines for the First Nation

Some ethnic groups are more vulnerable to particular diseases than others, and if these are smaller groups, they may be overlooked in drug and vaccine development. Researchers from the Northern Ontario School of Medicine are focusing on the development of vaccines targeted at an Aboriginal population in Northern Ontario, also known as the First Nation.

The first target for research is Haemophilus influenzae type A, a bacterial infection that is rare in the general population but more common in Aboriginal populations in Northern Ontario. This bacteria can cause blood poisoning and meningitis.

"The development of a vaccine would mean that Aboriginal populations across the North could be better protected against the Haemophilus influenzae bacteria," explained Dr. Marina Ulanova of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine.

The second target is Helicobacter pylori, an infection that affects about half of the population worldwide, and causes stomach ulcers in 10-15% of those affected and stomach cancer in 3%. Members of the Aboriginal population are more likely to be infected with H. pylori (up to 95%), so they would be more vulnerable to the complications.

"We plan to establish a collection of H. pylori isolates from clinical cases across Northern Ontario so we can characterize the strains that are relevant in our area. Analyzing the specific characteristics of these strains will not only allow us to develop more successful treatment plans, but will also help to identify potential vaccine targets for the development of a safe and effective vaccine against H. pylori," explained Dr. Francisco Diaz-Mitoma of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine and VP of research for Health Sciences North.

Although the Canadian Aboriginal population is relatively small, work on vaccines for this specific population will protect particularly vulnerable people and could have an effective spinoff for other groups--for example, though Haemophilus influenzae is rare in the general population, its effects can be very serious.

- read the press release