December 27, 2013

Patient heal thyself: Solution to treatment for chronic infections could lie in patient's blood

by PressRelease • December 26, 2013

This discovery gives hope for a more effective and cheaper treatment strategy to millions worldwide suffering from chronic infections

1. A recent discovery by scientists at A*STAR’s Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences (SICS), in close collaboration with researchers at the Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN), provides hope for a new personalised treatment strategy that could use a patient’s own blood to treat the infection. This could help treat millions of people living with chronic infections such as HIV, Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C. These findings were published in the issue of The Journal of Clinical Investigation.

2. Patients suffering from chronic infections often have to undergo long periods of anti-viral drug therapy to control the virus. Anti-viral drugs are not fully effective against viruses such as Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C, which have chronically-infected about 400 million worldwide with more than 1,000,000 people dying from Hepatitis-related diseases every year.

3. Vaccines are a potentially effective means to treat chronic viral infections such as this because they can eliminate the virus naturally. However, vaccines for patients with chronic infections are often difficult to produce since these patients already have weak immune responses or the vaccine is not effective due to genetic diversity amongst viruses.

4. The team at SICS led by Prof Antonio Bertoletti has discovered that monocytes, a type of white blood cell that can activate an immune response, are able to capture the virus in chronically-infected patients and use the captured virus to boost the patient’s own immune response.

5. By using the viral antigen already present in the blood of the patient suffering from a chronic illness, this strategy redefines therapeutic vaccines by cutting down on time and resources as there is no need to specially isolate the viral proteins from patients, purify it, and then inactivate it to create a vaccine.

6. All the proteins present within the virus can be used to create a personalised vaccine for each individual. This also means that many of the complex issues associated with current vaccine therapy against chronic infections can be overcome, such as that of genetic diversity of viruses.

7. One of the greatest beneficiaries of this discovery would be chronically-infected patient populations in lower socio-economic strata. By tailoring vaccines to be more specific to each virus and each patient, vaccine production can be simplified and thus less costly. Vaccines produced via this discovery could improve the accessibility of such treatments.

8. Prof Bertoletti said, “Mobilizing the immune system to use the virus within the patient for a vaccine is a simple idea that could lead to a personalised, yet widely applicable, vaccine for chronic infections.”

9. Prof Judith Swain, Executive Director of SICS said, “This excellent collaborative discovery between SICS and SIgN is a milestone in vaccine therapy for chronic infections. I believe that these findings will go a long way in improving future therapeutic treatments for chronic infections.”

The research findings described in this media release can be found in the August 2013 online issue of The Journal of Clinical Investigation under the title, “Mobilizing monocytes to cross-present circulating viral antigen in chronic infection” by Adam J. Gehring1, Muzlifah Haniffa2,3, Patrick Kennedy4, Zi Zong Ho1, Carolina Boni5, Amanda Shin3, Nasirah Banu1, Adeline Chia1, Seng Gee Lim6, Carlo Ferrari5, Florent Ginhoux3, and Antonio Bertoletti1,7,8

1 Infection and Immunity Programme, Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences, Agency for Science Technology and Research (A*STAR), Singapore.
2 Institute of Cellular Medicine, Newcastle University, Newcastle, United Kingdom.
3 Singapore Immunology Network, Agency for Science Technology and Research (A*STAR), Singapore.
4 Center for Digestive Disease, Blizard Institute of Cell and Molecular Science, Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, London, United Kingdom.
5 Unit of Infectious Diseases and Hepatology, Laboratory of Viral Immunopathology, Azienda Ospedaliero-Universitaria di Parma, Parma, Italy.
6 Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore, Singapore.
7 Program Emerging Viral Diseases, Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, Singapore.
8 Department of Medicine, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore, Singapore.


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