Trinity team makes vaccine discovery

IRISH scientists have discovered a new protein in the immune system that could lead to better vaccines for diseases such as HIV and malaria.

The research team at Trinity College Dublin, led by Professor of Biochemistry Luke O’Neill, believe the protein they have named TAG limits a key process in the body that is needed to make vaccines work.

“If we can now devise a way to interfere with TAG, we may be able to boost experimental vaccines for diseases such as HIV and malaria,” Prof O’Neill explained.

A key challenge in vaccine research is to get the immune system to respond appropriately to a vaccine.

Prof O’Neill said TAG limited the action of another protein called Tram, which was pivotal to vaccine research and which had been shown by scientists to be necessary for vaccines to work.

The professor pointed out that, in effect, Tram was the accelerator for vaccines, with TAG acting as the brake. “If TAG is targeted in a manner akin to lifting the foot from the brake on the immune response, it could lead to better vaccines for diseases where there is a compelling need,” he said.

The findings, published in the latest issue of the world leading immunology journal Nature Immunology.

“There is a huge effort being made to develop vaccines and this is another little piece in the puzzle,” he said.

Part of the problem is that scientists did not know what to turn on in terms of getting the immune system to work properly.

“This discovery is the first step in developing better vaccines and the next step is to exploit it by producing a drug that will get rid of TAG from the system.”

Lead scientists involved in the research project included Dr Eva Palsson McDermott, Dr Sara Doyle and Dr Anne McGettrick of TCD.

It involved a collaboration with the universities of Massachussets in the USand Trondheim in Norway.

Prof O’Neill said the discovery of TAG would not have been possible without funding from Science Foundation Ireland.

“It is an example of how basic research is needed to improve the prospects of developing the biotechnology sector in Ireland,” he said.

Professor O’Neill is also a co-founder and director of Opsona Therapeutics, a Trinity College campus biotechnology company.


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