The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), one of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has announced awards to establish four Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs) which will focus on the development of vaccines to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The grants will support collaborative, multidisciplinary research on the pathogens that cause gonorrhoea, chlamydia and syphilis.

All the centres funded through this new program involve multiple research institutions across the United States as well as international collaborators. Associate Professor Kate Seib, a research leader at Griffith University’s Institute for Glycomics, will be a Project Leader involved in one of these four key research centres focusing on gonorrhoea.

The centre will receive US$9.25 million (approximately AU$13.2 million) over a period of five years to fund their research proposal titled Starve and Kill: Engineered Antigens Targeting Nutrient Acquisition Pathways Essential for Gonococcal Infection and Disease.

Associate Professor Kate Seib, Institute for Glycomics

“Projects at this centre will focus on interfering with bacterial nutrient transport as a protective strategy. They plan to develop vaccine candidates that target bacterial systems needed to acquire iron and zinc, thus starving the bacteria of required nutrients,” explained Associate Professor Seib.

Associate Professor Seib will lead one of the three projects within the proposal, which has a focus onunderstanding and optimizing the potential public health impact of a gonococcal vaccine.It willinvestigate protein antigen diversity, antibiotic resistance and community awareness of gonorrhoea and acceptance of a potential vaccine. It will alsomodel the effectiveness of possible gonococcal vaccine formulations in different populations.

Gonorrhoea, an STI caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae, remains a major public health concern. It represents 78 million of the estimated 357 million new cases of STIs which occur globally every year. The disease affects both men and women, however if left untreated or undiagnosed in women, gonorrhoea can lead to endometritis, pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility. Babies born to infected mothers are at increased risk of blindness.

Professor Mark von Itzstein, Director of the Institute for Glycomics, commented, “Currently there is no vaccine available to prevent gonorrhoea. Nowadays, the disease is treated with antibiotics, however some strains of the bacteriaNeisseria gonorrhoeaeare now resistant to all antibiotics typically used to treat infection. We urgently need new ways to treat and prevent gonorrhoea, and this work provides a new opportunity to progress gonococcal vaccine development.”

At the end of the five-year program, each centre is expected to identify at least one candidate vaccine that is ready for testing in human clinical trials.

The research is funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases grant U19 AI 44182-01.