Trials for DNA vaccines

April 2, 1999

A PhD student at a London hospital is developing a vaccine that she hopes will cut the risk of chicken pox in developing countries and may slash the cases of shingles here and abroad.

Uzma Hasan, a 24-year-old student in the department of immunology and medical microbiology at St Bartholemews and the Royal London School of Medicine and Dentistry in London, is trying to design a DNA vaccine against chicken pox.

At the moment, only protein vaccines against the disease are available, but DNA vaccines are being engineered and trialed against conditions including HIV and malaria.

Ms Hasan believes that the potential benefits of a DNA vaccine could be huge. DNA vaccines involve injecting a person with a tiny quantity of the DNA of the actual virus so that the body develops an immune response to the virus. Afterwards, if the person is exposed to the disease naturally, he or she will have protection against it.

"DNA has longer lived vaccine expression than a protein," Ms Hasan said. "This means that boosters are less likely to be required. Also, protein vaccines are not easy to store, which has meant problems sending batches to developing countries. This may be easier with DNA vaccines, which do not need refrigeration."

Ms Hasan said that the virus does not disappear from the immune system when chicken pox goes, rather it resides in the nervous system and can cause shingles in the elderly and those under stress. An effective DNA vaccine may also reduce the incidence of shingles, she said. The vaccine, being developed with John Morrow and Brendan Ren, is being trialed and an immune response has been generated.

Ms Hasan was one of a number of young scientists who presented their work at a recent House of Commons showcase to coincide with Set99 science week.

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