The UR Medical Center was recently granted a total of $4 million to assist in the development of a new vaccine designed to help prevent childhood infections of the ear and sinus. In addition, the researchers attached to the project hope that it will target certain types of adult Bronchitis.

Part of the funding for the research was from the National Institute of Deafness and Communication Disorders, one of the National Institutes of Health. This grant amounted to $3.5 million.

The major difference between this vaccine and others previously developed is the intent. Instead of targeting a potentially fatal disease or disorder, this vaccine aims to prevent non-deadly diseases that can cause other problems such as deafness.

“We are now in an era where we look to vaccines that make life better,” Professor of Microbiology and Immunology Michael Pichichero said.

Pichichero currently leads the group that is beginning research on the vaccine. This group is currently assembling a base of test subjects to study. “We plan to enroll a total of 400 children and so far have enrolled 20,” Pichichero said.

The specific infection being targeted is Nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae, which is currently the most prevalent cause of sinus and ear infections in children. Although not life-threatening, this infection can cause damage to the ear in some children.

“We expect to explain how some kids naturally protect themselves, and to package that protection for those who can’t,” Pichichero said.

In addition to the grant from NIH, URMC has received a $500,000 grant from the Thrasher Foundation with the caveat that it be used for research into childhood diseases. This money has been used to work on a vaccine for the disease Streptococcus pneumoniae.

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

In the course of the development of the vaccine, the researchers will examine a total of 400 infants, using both sick and non-sick children to create a definitive cure for disease.

Although very unique among vaccines because of its application to non-life threatening diseases, the vaccine is important to many.

“Our phones are ringing off the hook and our emails are already overfilled from families across the country who are asking to participate in this research,” Pichichero said.

The research is being conducted in concert with the Elmwood Pediatric Group, of which Pichichero is a member. Elmwood Pediatric is a group that specializes in medicine for children and has worked on vaccinations in the past.

Elmwood will handle much of the work with patients, collecting data that will be essential to formulating a correct vaccination.

“The critical question is what’s different between those kids who get a few infections and those kids that get a ton of ear infections,” Elmwood Pediatric doctor Janet Casey said. “While creating a vaccine we will also be able to find more effective treatments for the children who live with chronic ear infections.”Majarian can be reached at mmajarian@campustimes.org.



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