In 2017, NIAID researchers and NIAID-funded scientists at domestic and international institutions made significant progress in developing vaccines and treatments for various infectious diseases, including Zika, HIV and malaria. Other discoveries yielded novel insights into rare diseases and drug-resistant infections. In addition, new clinical guidelines to prevent peanut allergy were published and highlight how NIAID-supported research translates into clinical practice.
Ten selected science news highlights from 2017 are summarized below. All of these advances demonstrate how public investment in biomedical research drives scientific progress and benefits human health.
Expert Panel Issues Guidelines to Prevent Peanut Allergy
In January, an NIAID-sponsored expert panel issued clinical guidelines to aid health care providers in early introduction of peanut-containing foods to infants to prevent the development of peanut allergy. This addendum to the 2010 Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Food Allergy in the United States provides three separate guidelines for infants at various levels of risk for developing peanut allergy. See the Jan. 5 news release. More information about the addendum guidelines is available on NIAID’s food allergy guidelines webpage.
A jar of peanut butter.
Phase 2 Zika Vaccine Trial Launches
In March, NIAID announced that vaccinations had begun in a multi-site Phase 2/2b clinical trial testing an experimental DNA vaccine designed to protect against disease caused by Zika virus infection. NIAID is leading the trial, which aims to enroll at least 2,490 healthy participants in areas of confirmed or potential active mosquito-transmitted Zika infection. The trial, called VRC 705, will further evaluate the vaccine’s safety and ability to stimulate an immune response, and assess the optimal dose for administration. See the March 31 news release and Q&A. Additional information about development of a vaccine to prevent Zika virus infection is available on NIAID’s Zika virus vaccines webpage.
A vial of the NIAID Zika Virus Investigational DNA Vaccine, taken at the NIAID Vaccine Research Center’s Pilot Plant in Frederick, Maryland.
Child Maintains HIV Remission Without Drugs
A nine-year-old South African child who was diagnosed with HIV infection at one month of age and received anti-HIV treatment during infancy has suppressed the virus without anti-HIV drugs for eight and a half years, scientists reported in July. NIAID funded the clinical trial in which the child received treatment and follow-up monitoring. The case appears to be the third reported instance of sustained HIV remission in a child after early, limited anti-HIV treatment. See the July 24 news release.
A variety of antiretroviral drugs used to treat HIV infection.
Experimental Malaria Vaccine Provides Protection
In a Phase 1 study, an investigational malaria vaccine given intravenously protected a small number of healthy adults in the United States from infection with a malaria strain different from that contained in the vaccine. The study evaluated the investigational PfSPZ vaccine developed by Sanaria Inc. of Rockville, Maryland. See the Feb. 21 news release. In a separate NIAID-supported study conducted in Mali, the PfSPZ vaccine was well-tolerated and protected healthy adults against malaria infection for the entire malaria season. See the Feb. 15 news release. Another clinical trial supported in part by NIAID demonstrated that an experimental vaccine strategy known as PfSPZ-CVac, together with antimalarial medication, protected against malaria infection in nine clinical trial volunteers given three high-dose vaccinations. See the Feb. 15 media availability.
Adult volunteer in Mali receiving experimental malaria PfSPZ vaccine.
Scientists Discover Rare Genetic Susceptibility to Common Cold
NIAID scientists discovered a rare genetic mutation that results in a markedly increased susceptibility to infection by human rhinoviruses—the main causes of the common cold. They identified the mutation in a young child with a history of severe rhinovirus infections. The case revealed an important mechanism used by the immune system to respond to these viruses. Insights from the study may one day lead to new strategies for treating patients with severe rhinovirus complications. See the June 12 news release.
A variety of treatments for the common cold.
RSV Vaccine Enters Clinical Testing
In February, NIAID began a Phase 1 clinical trial to test the safety and tolerability of an investigational vaccine against respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, which infects cells of the lungs and breathing passages. The trial also will assess the vaccine’s ability to prompt an immune response in healthy adults. While healthy people infected with RSV typically experience mild, cold-like symptoms and recover in a week or two, RSV can cause serious illness, particularly in infants, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems. Currently, no vaccine to prevent RSV infection or drug to treat it is available. Initial results from NIAID’s ongoing clinical trial are expected next year. See the Feb. 22 news release.
Scanning electron micrograph of human RSV virions (blue) labeled with anti-RSV F protein/gold antibodies (yellow) shedding from the surface of human lung epithelial cells.
“Three-in-One” HIV Antibody Protects Monkeys
A three-pronged antibody made in the laboratory protected monkeys from infection with two strains of SHIV, a monkey form of HIV. It worked better than individual natural antibodies from which the engineered antibody is derived. This “trispecific” antibody, created by investigators from NIAID and the pharmaceutical company Sanofi, also stopped more HIV strains from infecting cells in the laboratory—and more potently—than natural, single antibodies. Sanofi is manufacturing the trispecific antibody for use in a Phase 1 clinical trial that will be conducted by NIAID to test the antibody’s safety and pharmacokinetics in healthy people. That trial is expected to begin in late 2018. See the Sept. 20 news release.
Diagram of the “three-in-one” HIV antibody. The blue, purple and green segments each bind to a different critical site on the virus.
Scientists Identify Cause, Possible Treatment for Rare Gut Disease
NIAID investigators and international colleagues discovered a genetic cause and potential treatment for a rare immune disorder called CHAPLE disease. The condition can cause immunodeficiency, severe gastrointestinal distress and deep vein blood clots. It is a form of Waldmann’s disease, which was first described in 1961 by NIH scientist Thomas A. Waldmann, M.D. In the new study, NIAID researchers identified eculizumab, a therapeutic antibody approved to treat another rare condition, as a potential treatment for CHAPLE disease. NIAID physicians and others now are studying eculizumab in people with CHAPLE disease. See the June 28 news release and Oct. 11 NIAID Now blog post.
This light microscope image shows the gut tissue of a child with CHAPLE disease. The large white areas in the bottom right corner are enlarged lymphatic vessels, which can contribute to intestinal distress.
Common Antimicrobials Help Patients Recover from MRSA Abscesses
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria are resistant to multiple antibiotics and commonly cause skin infections that can lead to life-threatening infections in other parts of the body. NIAID-funded researchers found that two common, inexpensive antimicrobials can help patients heal from MRSA skin abscesses. The findings suggest that current treatment options for MRSA still have a role, even as scientists continue to search for new antimicrobial products. See the June 29 media availability.
MRSA bacteria, like those shown here, are present both in hospitals and the environment at large, and can cause difficult-to-treat skin infections.
Mycobacteria Use Protein to Avoid Tuberculosis Drugs
Subgroups of tuberculosis-causing mycobacteria can persist even when antibiotics wipe out most of the overall population. The need to eliminate these persistent subpopulations is one reason why tuberculosis treatment regimens are so lengthy. NIAID-supported researchers reported that a single protein allows mycobacteria to generate diverse populations that can avoid tuberculosis drugs. Devising a way to block this protein might result in less mycobacterial diversity and shorten tuberculosis treatment courses. See the May 31 media availability.
Scanning electron micrograph of Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria, which cause tuberculosis.