No vaccines exist for the majority of gastrointestinal pathogens. The few vaccines available, for example against cholera or typhoid fever, only have limited and short-term efficacy. A high demand for new vaccines exists due to both the high prevalence of gastrointestinal infections and very limited treatment options. One of the main challenges is to direct immune responses to the stomach and intestinal mucosa so as to develop vaccine protection within the gastrointestinal tract.
The Helicobacter pylori bacterium is an important gastrointestinal pathogen. It infects one in every two people worldwide and usually remains in the stomach for a lifetime. It is considered the main cause of gastric ulcers and gastric cancer. Effective antibiotics do exist, however, their efficacy is increasingly declining due to the rise of antibiotic resistance. Therefore, the DZIF group is carrying out research to develop vaccines that could prevent infection. Noroviruses present similar issues as they also cause gastrointestinal infections and are responsible for larger recurring outbreaks of acute gastrointestinal disease. Symptoms of infection include severe vomiting and severe diarrhoea. An infection usually only lasts a few days and subsides without secondary complications. However, in children and in elderly people, norovirus infections can be dangerous as they cause high loss of fluid. Developing vaccines against the Helicobacter pylori gastric pathogen and noroviruses are at the core of DZIF research.
Vaccination Against Gastric Pathogens
The aim is to develop a vaccine that targets specific surface structures of H. pylori, which the pathogen uses to bind to the mucosa. This would consequently prevent an infection from manifesting in the stomach in the first place. This vaccine is currently in the early stages of preclinical development.