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Vaccine to wipe out ear infections

A new vaccine aimed at eradicating childhood ear and sinus infections is poised to undergo trials, US researchers have announced.

A new vaccine aimed at eradicating childhood ear and sinus infections is poised to undergo trials, US researchers have announced.

The vaccine will target Nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae or NTHi, which is the main remaining cause of ear and sinus infections and bronchitis.

“We are now in an era where we look to vaccines that make life better,” said Dr Michael Pichichero, a professor of microbiology, immunology, paediatrics, and medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center, who is leading the trial.

“For ear infections they are the number one cause, for sinus infections they are the number one cause and for bronchitis in adults they are the number one cause, but they do not invade the bloodstream and cause life-threatening illness in normal people,” Pichichero said.

While not fatal, ear infections can cause serious damage in some children. 83% of US children experience one or more ear infections by age 3, Pichichero said, and in some cases hearing loss becomes permanent.

These commonplace infections are one of the leading causes of antibiotic prescriptions. A decrease in infections would help lower antibiotic rates, aiding in the fight ‘superbug’ bacteria evolve that develop resistance to the drugs.

The team has won a US $3.5 million grant from the National Institute of Deafness and Communication Disorders, one of the National Institutes of Health, to develop the new vaccine.

“I think the reason that this one has not moved forward at a faster pace despite the discovery of the potential vaccine ingredients ... (is that) up to now virtually all our vaccines have been focused on life-threatening illness,” Pichichero said.

The vaccine uses small pieces of the bacteria that cause the infections to stimulate an immune response. As the bacteria are all in the same family, it should protect against a broad range of strains, Pichichero said.

Trial recruitment is underway. “We plan to enroll a total of 400 children and so far have enrolled 20,” he said.

A team from the university previously helped develop Wyeth’s Prevnar vaccine, used to protect infants and toddlers against invasive disease caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Prevnar’s use has reduced pneumonia rates from the streptococcal strains it targets by 78%.

Now, Pichichero’s team has been awarded a $500,000 grant from the Thrasher Foundation, which pays for research into paediatric diseases, to study a new vaccine against Streptococcus pneumoniae strains not included in Prevnar’s formulation.

“Our ultimate goal would be to combine the three ingredients from the Nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae vaccine with the streptococcal vaccine, giving a vaccine that would prevent 90% of ear infections, sinus infections and bronchitis,” Pichichero said.

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