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Biological Sciences

Our scientists receive prestigious grant to design new vaccines

Published: 15 November 2009

Breaking the bacterial defence layer: researchers receive a US$100,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Researchers from the University of Southampton have received a US$100,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The team, led by microbiologist Dr Jeremy Webb of the School of Biological Sciences, was awarded funding to design new vaccines that will give protection against the bacteria that cause pneumonia and meningitis.

Dr Webb’s project is one of 76 grants announced by the Gates Foundation in the third funding round of Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative to help scientists around the world explore ways to improve health in developing countries.  The grants were provided to scientists in 16 countries on five continents.

Researchers at the Schools of Biological Sciences and Medicine, working with colleagues at the universities of Liverpool and Bristol, aim to create vaccines to stop bacteria ganging together and forming a defence layer, or ‘biofilm’, against antibiotics and the body’s immune system.  By targeting biofilms, researchers hope to reduce the mortality associated with meningitis and pneumonia.

Dr Jeremy Webb

The aim of the project, to create new ways to induce mucosal immunity, is to search for unique proteins that allow pneumococcal bacteria to form biofilms on mucosal surfaces.  The team will use laser capture micro-dissection “laser tweezers” to dissect these bacterial communities with the goal of finding antigens common to all serotypes which could be used as the basis for future vaccines.

“People often think of bacteria as single organisms, but in reality most bacteria cooperate to form complex communities”, comments Dr Webb. “Vaccines in use today are generally based on the properties of single-celled bacteria. Our approach is new because we will target properties of the protective biofilms in order to design new vaccines.”

Dr Webb will be working alongside Saul Faust, Stuart Clarke, Luanne Hall-Stoodley and Jo Jefferies from the University of Southampton, Robert Heyderman from the University of Liverpool and Adam Finn from the University of Bristol.

Dr Tachi Yamada, president of the Gates Foundation’s ‘Global Health Program’ says: “The winners of these grants show the bold thinking we need to tackle some of the world’s greatest health challenges. I’m excited about their ideas and look forward to seeing some of these exploratory projects turn into life-saving breakthroughs.”

For further information, interviews or images, contact:
Sophie Docker, Media Relations Officer, University of Southampton 023 8059 8933 S.Docker@soton.ac.uk

Most bacteria cooperate to form complex communities. Vaccines in use today are generally based on the properties of single-celled bacteria. Our approach is new because we will target properties of the protective biofilms in order to design new vaccines.”

Dr Jeremy Webb - School of Biological Sciences
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