2023-03-14| R&D

The World’s First mRNA Vaccine to Fight Against Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria

by Nai Ye Yeat
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A team of Israeli scientists has for the first time in the world developed an mRNA vaccine that is 100% effective against plague, a lethal infectious disease caused by the Gram-negative bacterium Yersinia pestis, which has claimed the lives of millions of people throughout human history. 

The successful in vivo study published in the journal Science Advances recently, demonstrated the pleasing result of having all vaccinated mice remain alive within a week of post-infection while all those unvaccinated died.

Related Article: Bacteriophage Characteristics Could Provide the Key to Tackling Viruses

Once Unfeasible Approach to Fight Bacteria

The mRNA vaccines, such as the COVID-19 vaccines are familiar enough to all of us. However, it has long been assumed to be only effective against viruses but not against bacteria due to their different mechanisms of reproduction. 

Viruses depend on host cells for their reproduction, which means it uses our cells as a factory for producing viral proteins based on their genetic material. In mRNA vaccines, this viral mRNA is synthesized in a lab, then wrapped in lipid nanoparticles resembling the membrane of human cells. When the vaccine is injected into our body, the lipids aid the invasion into our cells and consequently produce viral proteins. This process can train our immune system to become familiar with these proteins, and thus gain the ability to protect our body from future exposure to the real virus.

However, bacteria’s reproduction tells a different story. As bacteria do not rely on the host’s cells to produce their proteins, and since the evolutions of humans and bacteria are quite distinct, proteins produced in bacteria can be different from those produced in human cells, even when based on the same genetic sequence.

Before this study, there were several attempts to synthesize bacterial proteins in human cells, but exposure to these proteins resulted in low antibodies and a general lack of protective immune effect against bacterial infection. This is probably due to the significant changes undergone, such as the addition of sugars, when secreted from the human cell.

Powerful Tool for the Next Pandemic

The scientists developed two methods to solve the problem, first is to bypass the classical secretion pathways of bacterial proteins secretion to ensure the immune system identifies the proteins in the vaccine as immunogenic bacterial proteins. Second, buttress the bacterial protein with a section of human protein to enhance its stability and avoid fast disintegration inside the body. 

To sum up, the new technology can enable rapid development of effective vaccines for bacterial diseases, especially diseases caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which is now a new fast-spreading pandemic.

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