Mark Peeples, PhD, and Octavio Ramilo, MD, both principal investigators in the Center for Vaccines and Immunity at Nationwide Children’s Hospital were recently awarded a $6.75 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The grant will be used to develop a vaccine for respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children younger than 1 year of age in the United States, making it also the most frequent reason for hospitalization in that age group. Worldwide, RSV is a major cause of infant mortality.
“Our goal is to develop a live, attenuated RSV vaccine that can be given as nose drops to infants, and to improve the ways we evaluate vaccine safety and effectiveness,” says Dr. Peeples, who is also a professor of Pediatrics at The Ohio State University. “We are attacking the problem on multiple fronts, using new approaches to attenuate, or weaken, the virus, while increasing its ability to stimulate a protective immune response. Our additional objectives are to improve the production efficiency of the vaccine and to develop new methods to evaluate the immune response to the vaccine and its safety.”
Previous research has shown that RSV not only evades the body’s immune response but also suppresses it. “With this funding, our multidisciplinary group of researchers can leverage the novel observation that RSV infection in young infants results in a suppressed immune system,” explains Dr. Ramilo, who is also chief of Infectious Diseases at Nationwide Children’s and a professor of Pediatrics at Ohio State. “By understanding how the body responds to RSV infection and modifying the components of the virus that affect this response, we believe we can develop an optimal live attenuated RSV vaccine.”
The research team also includes Asuncion Mejias, MD, PhD, from Nationwide Children’s, Jianrong Li, DVM, PhD and Stefan Niewiesk, DVM, PhD, both from The Ohio State University School of Veterinary Medicine and Michael Teng, PhD, from the University of South Florida.
“In a highly competitive and challenging era for research funding, a program project grant at this level is a significant validation of the research in progress at Nationwide Children’s,” notes John Barnard, MD, president of The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Ohio State. “We look forward to the impact this vaccine could have on children around the world.”