The Center for Vaccines and Immunity has a single purpose, to improve the health of children through fundamental and applied research leading to a new generation of safe, protective vaccines against infection, cancer and allergy. Vaccine science has produced tremendous successes in the last half-century. A global vaccination campaign to eliminate the feared smallpox virus succeeded in 1977 when the last human infection occurred. Polio that caused muscle wasting, paralysis, and death in children 50 years ago is now on the verge of eradication by vaccination. Universal childhood vaccines effectively control many infectious diseases including measles, mumps, and the hepatitis A and B viruses that were serious public health problems only one or two generations ago. Nevertheless, difficult challenges remain.
Scientists in the Center for Vaccines and Immunity (CVI) are studying RSV, the respiratory syncytial virus that infects most children at least once by the time they are 2 years old. RSV infection is the leading cause of hospitalization for children less than 1 year of age. The goal of our research is to fill the serious unmet need for a vaccine to prevent RSV infection, as well as to develop effective antiviral agents against RSV.
CVI researchers also seek to develop vaccines for very serious persistent viral diseases that are sometimes passed from infected mothers to children during pregnancy and birth. Some infants borne to mothers with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) develop life-long infections that place them at high risk for progressive liver disease and cancer. To facilitate vaccine development, CVI scientists are studying why immune responses that permanently control HCV replication in some humans often fail in others, leading to persistent infections. The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the cause of AIDS, can also be passed from mother to child. A candidate HIV vaccine developed at CVI is now in the earliest phase of testing in adults.
There are many herpesviruses that can compromise the health of humans from infancy to adulthood. One example is the Epstein-Barr virus that causes infectious mononucleosis common during adolescence.Center scientists are studying how herpesviruses subvert the immune system to establish latent infections that can reactivate later in life to cause disease.
Finding vaccine technologies to replace the traditional approaches of using killed and attenuated viruses or microbes is a research priority. Center scientists are investigating the use of genetically altered vectors like the adeno-associated virus to vaccinate against viruses like HIV and HCV. An equally important priority is to understand molecular signaling within the immune system that can be exploited to boost or adjuvant enhance protective responses induced by vaccination.