Jul 17, 2019 | Updated: 10:03 AM EDT

Scientists are Closer than Ever to a Norovirus Vaccine

Jun 20, 2019 03:45 PM EDT

Scientists are Closer than Ever to a Norovirus Vaccine
(Photo : Image by Jason Taix from Pixabay)

There is a significant step forward in the development of an effective vaccine for the dreaded stomach virus with the discovery of an antibody that broadly inhibits multiple strains of pandemic norovirus. This significant discovery was made by scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health and their colleagues at the University of Texas at Austin and the National Institutes of Health Vaccine Research Center.

For the first time, the research describes the structure of the binding interaction between the virus and a human antibody that may work against many strains of the pandemic 'stomach bug.' They published the study in the issue of Immunity. Co-author of the study is research specialist Lisa Lindesmith and professor Ralph Baric, both of The Grillings School's department of epidemiology.

The leading cause of acute gastroenteritis is human noroviruses, inflammation of the stomach, and intestines. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, it accounts for nearly one in five cases of diarrhea and vomiting and is responsible for an estimated 200,000 deaths per year, mostly in infants, children and the elderly. The authors of the study wrote that though there are more than 30 known genotypes of human norovirus, nearly 60 percent of outbreaks are caused by GII.4 genotype strains that have caused periodic human pandemics since 1996 through today.

Baric noted that to design an effective vaccine for norovirus, scientists needed to identify a neutralizing antibody that could work against many strains of the virus, as well as strains that will circulate in the future. Now, they can use this information to build better human vaccines.

The most significant discovery of this research is a human antibody that can bind to a highly conserved region of the virus common among different strains of norovirus, potentially neutralizing all GII.4 strains of norovirus that exist in nature.

Parts that do not change are highly conserved regions of the virus. A human antibody that can target these highly conserved areas will offer broad protection for a prolonged period. Having this knowledge will make vaccine developers have a better understanding of how, and how often, to reformulate the vaccine over time.

George Georgiou, the co-author of the study, developed the technology they used to discover the critical antibody in the research, and the approach applies to a variety of highly variable bacteria and viruses.

This research addresses a fundamental problem in norovirus disease development that could have a wide-ranging impact on global health. Scientists have established an understanding of the virus and how it changes, how the body's immune response targets it, and how they can use that information to make a better vaccine.

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