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Future vaccines to target cancer, TB and malaria

CSIRO : 17 March, 2000  (Technical Article)
New vaccines against complex health problems such as cancer, tuberculosis and malaria, are now on the drawing-board, thanks to advances in gene technology and other scientific techniques.
Over 110 vaccine scientists from Australia and overseas will meet next week to share information on the latest strategies to improve human and animal health. The 7th Biennial Meeting of the Vaccines and Immunotherapeutics Conference will be held from March 19- 22, in Lorne, Victoria.

Conference co-organiser, CSIRO Animal Health's Dr Andrew Bean, says the conference will focus on both human and veterinary health applications for new vaccines and therapeutic treatments.

'We are at a stage where many of the simpler vaccines have now been made. For the more complex and difficult health problems, such as tuberculosis (TB), HIV, cancer, and malaria, new approaches are required,' says Dr Bean.

For example, researchers from the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in Melbourne are investigating a trial treatment for melanoma. As scientists are beginning to understand the key differences between cancer cells and normal cells, these differences could potentially be used as the basis for a therapeutic vaccine to treat cancer patients.

A major focus of the meeting will be on how scientists are investigating the use of natural immune boosters, called cytokines, to help combat cancers such as melanoma, and a range of human and animal diseases, including HIV/AIDS.

One of the latest strategies in developing an effective vaccine against malaria will be described at the conference, which focuses on teaching the immune system to fight a toxin produced by the malaria parasite. The project is being undertaken by the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne. Two million people around the world die each year from malaria.

Conference presenter and co-organiser, CSIRO Animal Health's Dr Marion Andrew, says new approaches that will be discussed at the conference include vaccination with naked DNA (the genetic material of all living things), and the engineering of new 'designer' antibodies.

'There are many examples of creative approaches to disease prevention and treatment. DNA vaccination is proving to be an exciting new technology to deliver safe and effective vaccines. The use of modified, harmless viruses, to carry vaccines to specific parts of the body where they are needed is another example.

'In many cases, an approach which uses a number of new techniques will be needed to beat those hard-to-solve disease problems,' says Dr Andrew.

The potential of the human genomics project and new techniques to create and screen immense libraries of antibodies and other molecules to create new vaccines will be a focus of the conference. According to Dr Peter Hudson of CSIRO Health Sciences and Nutrition, 'designer' antibodies and their fragments now represent over 30% of all biological proteins undergoing clinical trials for diagnosis and therapy in humans.
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