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​Vaccine Adjuvants

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Research in NIAID Labs

Many NIAID labs are engaged in adjuvant research. Investigators from the Laboratory of Malaria Immunology and Vaccinology, Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases, and Laboratory of Systems Biology are collaborating on a special program in vaccine adjuvants. This research program aims to identify the steps in the immune response that contribute to long-lasting, vaccine-induced antibody levels. The scientists are evaluating a diverse panel of candidate adjuvants and antigens in mouse and monkey models and in people. In addition, several labs are conducting and participating in adjuvant studies.

Laboratory of Immunology

The Laboratory of Immunology (LI) studies the effects of adjuvants and adjuvanted vaccine antigens on the behavior of immune cells. LI researchers have tested interleukin 1 (IL-1), a chemical messenger of the immune system, as an adjuvant in vaccines directed against various pathogens. For example, they showed in mice that IL-1 can enhance the effectiveness of safe but inefficient vaccines against fungal infection.

Laboratory of Infectious Diseases

Researchers in the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases evaluate in mice and monkeys adjuvanted vaccines against Epstein-Barr virus, which causes mononucleosis and is associated with several cancers.

Laboratory of Malaria Immunology and Vaccinology

The Laboratory of Malaria Immunology and Vaccinology incorporates adjuvant studies into its vaccine development program, with the goal of enhancing the effectiveness of malaria vaccine candidates.

Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases

Researchers in the Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases investigate how adjuvants stimulate certain types of immune responses. In 2013, they studied in mice how Complete Freund’s Adjuvant (CFA) promotes a certain T cell response and identified the cellular mechanisms underlying CFA’s adjuvant activity. CFA is an oil-in-water emulsion that elicits potent immune responses but is not used in human studies because of its severe side effects. Understanding how CFA boosts the immune system could help scientists develop less toxic adjuvants that promote similar protective immune responses.

Laboratory of Systems Biology

Scientists in the Laboratory of Systems Biology (LSB) study signaling through innate immune receptors and build models to illustrate how a cell develops an appropriate immune response. Looking closely at the action of individual immune cells and cell-to-cell variations may help researchers examine the effects of adjuvants on various cell types.

In collaboration with their colleagues at the trans-NIH Center for Human Immunology (CHI), LSB researchers are using various experimental techniques to characterize the state of the immune system in healthy people, called the “normal immunome.” These data may lead to new insights into the workings of the human immune system, which in turn could help scientists design novel immune-stimulating adjuvants.

LSB scientists and their CHI colleagues have identified a combination of pre-vaccination cell populations that can predict responses to influenza vaccination. Some of these predictors could potentially be useful for adjuvant research. The scientists plan to further evaluate these predictors in a clinical trial aimed at analyzing the effects of various adjuvants on human responses to a candidate H5N1 influenza vaccine. Read more about this research in NIH Scientists Model Immune Variation and Responses to Flu Vaccination.

Vaccine Research Center

The Vaccine Research Center (VRC) is conducting preclinical studies on the incorporation of known and investigational adjuvants into HIV vaccine candidates. This research encompasses a thorough analysis of how different immune adjuvants can influence the magnitude, durability, and function of HIV immune responses.

VRC scientists also are testing a two-step immunization strategy called heterologous prime-boost immunization. In this strategy, attenuated viral vector vaccines are given in sequence with adjuvanted vaccines containing protein antigens to enhance protective immune responses. Specifically, researchers are testing these novel prime-boost regimens to create a “universal” flu vaccine that could neutralize multiple strains of the influenza virus, as well as vaccines against HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria.

Last Updated May 13, 2014

Last Reviewed May 13, 2014