An experimental vaccine that sends immune cells into “Incredible Hulk mode” could protect patients against all hospital superbugs, according to new research.
Scientists say a study in mice suggests a single shot administered just before or after arriving in hospital could prevent all antibiotic-resistant infections – including potentially deadly MRSA.
The new vaccine has been developed and patented by an international team led by scientists at the University of Southern California (USC).
Researchers designed the formula to stop serious infections from drug-resistant pathogens.
The Incredible Hulk was a super-strong Marvel Comics character who was the alter ego of scientist Dr. Bruce Banner.
The new study, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, shows that a single dose, administered in mouse models, put immune cells into “Incredible Hulk” mode, providing rapid protection against eight different bacteria and fungi species.
Senior author Dr. Brad Spellberg, chief medical officer at the USC-affiliated Los Angeles General Medical Center, said: “It’s an early warning system.
“It’s like Homeland Security putting out a terror alert. ‘Everybody, keep your eyes open. Keep an eye out for suspicious packages.’
“You’re alerting the soldiers and tanks of your immune system.
“The vaccine activates them. ‘Oh my, there’s danger here. I better turn into the Hulk.’
“I mean, when you have bad superbugs lurking, that’s when you want the Hulk waiting to pounce rather than Dr. Banner, right?”
Healthcare-acquired infections kill more than 90,000 people every year in the United States alone.
On any given day, around one in 31 hospital patients in America has at least one such infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In many cases, infections are caused by superbugs such as MRSA.
The infections spread via contaminated surfaces or equipment, such as catheters or ventilators, or through person-to-person spread, often from contaminated hands.
Risk is highest among intensive care patients who may suffer surgical site infections, bloodstream infections, urinary tract infections and ventilator-associated pneumonia.
Typical vaccines usually prompt the body to make antibodies against a specific pathogen but – despite the high incidence of healthcare-acquired infections -there are currently no approved vaccines that prevent the most serious, antibiotic-resistant infections.
Dr. Brian Luna, of Keck School of Medicine at USC, said: “Even if there were such vaccines, multiple vaccines would have to be deployed simultaneously to protect against the full slate of antibiotic-resistant microbes that cause healthcare-acquired infections.”
He said the new experimental vaccine takes an entirely different approach as it “gooses” the body’s pre-existing supply of pathogen-gobbling immune cells called macrophages, which engulf and digest bacteria, fungi and other bad actors.
Dr. Luna said the activated fighters, found in all tissues, quickly neutralize incoming invaders which might otherwise multiply rapidly and overwhelm the body’s defenses.
Study first author Jun Yan, a doctoral student at Keck School of Medicine, said: “This is very different from developing new antibiotics.
“This is using our own immune system to fight against different superbugs, which is a different approach than everybody else.”
The vaccine is comprised of just three ingredients, two of which are already used in officially approved vaccines.
A third component is a tiny piece from the surface of a fungus commonly found on human skin.
Tested in two independent labs, the vaccine works within 24 hours and lasts for up to 28 days.
In lab models, the number of pathogen-eating immune cells in the blood increased “dramatically” – and the survival time of invasive blood and lung infections improved.
Early data suggest that a second dose could extend the window to prevent infection, according to the research team.
To develop the vaccine, they formed the start-up ExBaq LLC.
The technology licensing office for USC has successfully filed one patent for the vaccine and is pursuing others.
Professor Ishwar Puri, senior vice president of research and innovation at USC, said: “The pandemic stimulated unprecedented innovation in vaccine development, where federal funding and university-industry partnerships were game changers for translating promising discoveries from academic labs for the good of all.”
Now ExBaq’s founders have begun talking with potential pharmaceutical partners who might be interested in further developing the vaccine for human clinical trials.
They said the first such trial would be done in healthy volunteers to find the right dose of vaccine that is safe and triggers the same kind of immune response in people as seen in the mice.
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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