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Novel nanoparticle vaccine to fight against MERS-CoV
Virus-mimicking vaccine nanotechnology makes a strong vaccine against lethal emerging viruses

The Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is a highly lethal emerging disease that is transmitted from camels to humans.

Since the first identified case of MERS in 2012 in Saudi Arabia, there have been over 2000 confirmed cases across 27 countries. The disease has a high mortality rate of over 34 per cent and there is no available vaccine against the pathogen.

As one of the priority diseases identified by the World Health Organization, there is an urgent need for new vaccine technology against the pathogen.

An international consortium comprised of scientists from the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), National Taiwan University, and Academia Sinica has developed a novel nanoparticle vaccine mimicking the morphology of MERS-CoV against the infectious pathogen. The nanoparticle vaccine has proven to be safe and effective against a lethal challenge of MERS-CoV in a transgenic mouse model.

Due to the highly mutational nature of many emerging diseases, effective prophylactic strategies demand multidisciplinary collaborations for innovation solutions. The nanoparticle vaccine development was supported by the National Taiwan University and Academia Sinica Innovative Joint Program and the Ministry of Science and Technology of Taiwan, and preclinical testing was performed at UTMB鈥檚 biosafety lab.

By integrating the receptor binding domain of MERS-CoV with a capsid-like polymeric nanoshell loaded with a potent immunologic stimulant, a highly potent nanoparticle vaccine can be prepared. In a mouse model, the vaccine stimulated a high and durable level of anti-MERS-CoV antibodies that can neutralise MERS-CoV antigens.

In addition, the vaccine also triggered an elevated level of antigen-specific T cells, which is critical for MERS-CoV protection. In a study with live MERS-CoV challenge, mice vaccinated with the nanoparticle vaccine showed 100 per cent survival whereas all the non-vaccinated mice succumbed to the lethal challenge.

Unlike live attenuated virus vaccines, the nanoparticle vaccine possesses superior safety and is comprised entirely of biocompatible materials. The international team aims to assess the nanoparticle vaccine in non-human primates before moving to clinical testing.

The international consortium is led by Professor Kent Tseng at the University of Texas Medical Branch, Professor Hui-Wen Chen at the National Taiwan University, and Dr. Che-Ming Jack Hu at Academia Sinica.

Their findings were published in Advanced Functional Materials.

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