MISSOULA – The University of Montana has been awarded a $5.4 million to help develop a vaccine against bacterial infection.
The principal investigator on the five-year award, titled “Immunization against filamentous bacteriophages to prevent bacterial infection,” is Patrick Secor, assistant professor in the Division of Biological Sciences at UM.
P. aeruginosa is a deadly pathogen and a major cause of infections in diabetic wounds, lungs and other settings. Due to extensive antibiotic resistance, it is increasingly difficult to treat infections once they are established. Although it is ideal to vaccinate at-risk patients against P. aeruginosa before they develop infections, there are no approved vaccines to prevent infection.
The novel UM research approach does not target the bacteria itself, but a type of virus, or bacteriophage, that is prevalent among not only P. aeruginosa, but many other species of bacterial pathogens.
“Most people think of bacteriophage as simple bacterial parasites. Our work challenges this assumption,” Secor said. “The idea that bacteriophage could play a direct role in infection pathogenesis was very exciting to us. It was this idea that eventually led us to develop an anti-bacteriophage vaccine. We were ecstatic when our vaccine produced positive results.”
The type of bacteriophage targeted by the vaccine has a long filamentous shape. Secor’s research shows that when filamentous bacteriophage accumulate at sites of infection, they increase mucus viscosity and promote bacterial colonization.
“You can imagine how having all of these filamentous bacteriophage in the mucus of your lungs – 10 million or more bacteriophage per gram – might prevent you from coughing up and clearing a lung infection,” Secor said. “They reinforce the mucus kind of like rebar reinforces concrete.”
The money was awarded to UM by the National Institutes of Health.