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UT Researchers Create New Bacteria Designed to Improve Vaccinations

UT researchers have developed 61 new strains of genetically-engineered bacteria, which they say could improve and transform vaccines.

The strains of E. Coli are part of a new class of adjuvants, which are substances mixed in with vaccines that stimulate and improve the human body’s immune response to vaccinations. M. Stephen Trent, an associate professor of molecular genetics and microbiology at UT who worked on the research, said these new strains gives the medical field more options for vaccine development.

“This will improve current vaccines,” Trent said. “Some vaccines we have on the market now are not as good as they need to be...and there is the possibility that there could be something we cannot vaccinate now that this system could help with.”

Currently, vaccines in the United States primarily use aluminum salt as an adjuvant, because the FDA has approved little else. Brittany Needham, a UT doctoral student who is the co-author of a paper outlining the 61 new strains of bacteria, said this can be limiting to developing vaccines.

“Depending on the type of adjuvant you used, you can target certain classes of immune responses that are better to fight viral infections or bacterial infections,” Needham said. “You can actually prime the immune system to target certain kinds of things that make you sick if you use different ones. Aluminum salts do not have that diversity to target all of the types of immune responses.”

Trent and Needham said they are hopeful this research will improve the health and effectiveness of vaccinations.

“Unfortunately there are a lot of people that have a negative view on vaccines, and I find that is usually because of lack of education,” Trent said. “If you can make a vaccine and assure people more that it is safer than it was before, then more people will be vaccinated.”

Trent said the new strains are “ready to go”. The University of Texas is helping market the strains and find corporate supporters for clinical trials.