Vaccines have been one of the major public health revolutions in the history of mankind. During the twentieth century, together with improved hygiene, housing, nutrition and sanitation, they have led to a decline in mortality.


Nevertheless, as recently heighted by R. Rappuoli, David E. Bloom and Steve Black (Deploy vaccines to fight superbugs. Nature. 2017 Dec 14;552(7684):165-167. doi: 10.1038/d41586-017-08323-0), “bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi , resistant to drugs, still cause 700,000 deaths each year and by 2050, such ‘superbugs’, inured to treatments, could cause up to 10 million deaths annually and cost the global economy US$100 trillion . Since the 1980s, 22 vaccines have been developed thanks to various advances in molecular biology. Researchers produced vaccines against hepatitis B and human papillomavirus (which cause liver cancer and cervical cancer, respectively) using recombinant DNA technology. They fused genetic elements to create new synthetic sequences that would not otherwise occur. Conjugate vaccines have drastically reduced the incidence of meningitis caused by Haemophilus influenzae, pneumococcus (Streptococcus pneumoniae) and meningococcus (Neisseria meningitidis). These are produced by making covalent links between bacterial polysaccharides and proteins. More recently, reverse vaccinology led to a vaccine against meningococcus B. In this approach, researchers mine the thousands of proteins encoded by bacterial genes in search of possible vaccine candidates, such as proteins that are exposed on the cell surface. Vaccine technologies continue to evolve. For example, scientists are analysing the atomic structure of antigens with a view to modifying them to make them more effective as vaccines. Progress in immunology and synthetic biology, too, are likely to make it possible for researchers to tackle diseases that have so far remained out of reach, such as respiratory syncytial virus and cytomegalovirus.”

Recent technological advances in human immunology and structural biology have provided new reagents and improved tools that allow a better understanding of the basic biological and molecular mechanisms leading to a protective human immune response to pathogens, inspiring new strategies for vaccine design. The herein presented grant proposes to combine the characterization of the immune response and antigen structure through mass spectrometry to provide tools to facilitate the design of new and more efficacious vaccines against infectious diseases.


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