Innovative vaccine research against viral zoonoses
The junior research group ZOOVAC is conducting innovative vaccine research against viral zoonoses. The focus is on the improvement of a disease-specific protective effect of vaccines. Important goals are, for example, the achievement of neuroprotection, i.e. protection of the CNS (brain and spinal cord) as well as protection of the developing foetus ("fetoprotection") and also to induce a protective effect as quickly as possible in the sense of an emergency vaccine.
Vaccines are the most successful medical measure to protect against viral diseases. Nowadays, new or suddenly reappearing infectious agents, such as the severe respiratory diseases SARS and MERS caused by corona viruses, are becoming increasingly important and the public health service (ÖGD) must increasingly take these agents into account in the context of preventive measures. Therefore, the development of new effective control strategies, especially in the form of vaccines available in case of emergency, is of great importance for the public health system. This project aims to gain fundamental knowledge that will allow the rapid and efficient identification of potential vaccine antigens for zoonotic pathogens. This will be investigated on the basis of an infection model with the current zoonotic pathogen Zika virus, which belongs to the Flaviviridae family. Promising ZikV proteins will be systematically tested in vivo for their suitability as antigens for protective immunization. This novel model to study ZikV proteins is based on the use of viral vaccines based on the vaccinia virus MVA. Currently, MVA is already approved as an improved smallpox vaccine and also serves as a recombinant vaccine virus for the development of novel vector vaccines. Several of these vector vaccines are already undergoing clinical trials in humans.
Focus of work
The overall structure of the research programme comprises three sub-projects, which are further subdivided into different work steps depending on the topics dealt with.
Subproject 1 comprises the generation of a Zika virus gene expression library based on the Modified Vaccinia Virus Ankara (MVA). This collection of different vaccine antigen systems will be tested for their ability to protect against Zika virus infection in a mouse model.
Subproject 2 will further investigate the capacity of the potentially protective Zika virus antigens in detail with respect to the induction of disease-specific protection (neuroprotection, fetoprotection) as well as a rapid protective effect in emergency vaccination.
Subproject 3 will then identify and characterize the immunological mechanisms underlying the disease-specific or rapid protective effect.