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Cracking the secret of powerful vaccination against whooping cough

The highly contagious respiratory disease whooping cough (pertussis), caused by the infectious bacteria Bordetella pertussis is on the rise with increasing numbers of deaths and hospitalizations each year, despite broad vaccine coverage. The question is, why? Before introduction of the pertussis vaccine, about 200,000 cases/year of whooping cough were reported in the USA alone.

A powerful pertussis vaccine that was introduced in the mid-1940s wiped out the disease but was phased out in the United States due to the association with serious adverse side effects. In the 1990s the vaccine was replaced by a safer and simpler vaccine; however, the vaccine is wearing off much faster than public health planners anticipated and outbreaks are becoming more frequent. Indeed, in 2014, 11,209 cases alone were reported in California. In a race to protect the most vulnerable a more efficacious vaccine is warranted. At an age of uncertainty surrounding the safety and efficacy of many vaccines, it’s critical to put a consolidated effort in the development of a more powerful and safe vaccine against pertussis.

By using new technology, not available in 1990s, we propose to screen and identify new targets of virulence and infection. Specifically, we will use advanced tools that combine the approach of large-scale study of proteins (Immunoproetomics) and bacterial genome analysis to detect antibodies against the most relevant clinical features of the disease. The key to map these antibodies, is the use of blood samples from donors that still carry that precious material, namely recovered pertussis patients that have been previously infected, or individuals that have been administered with the old but powerful vaccine. With this trailblazing, yet simple approach, we anticipate to unveil new targets, previously unrecognized and not contained in current vaccines, that promote long-term protection antibodies. This could provide invaluable knowledge and fulfil the current pits and gaps towards the design of a new vaccine against pertussis.