In 2018, researchers at NIAID and NIAID-funded institutions made significant advances in understanding and treating allergic, immunologic, autoimmune and infectious diseases. Other work accelerated progress toward development of novel, safe and effective vaccines, including a universal flu vaccine intended to protect against many strains of influenza virus. In addition, NIAID issued a strategic plan to reinvigorate research on an ancient disease, tuberculosis, the leading infectious cause of death worldwide.
Ten selected science news highlights from 2018 are summarized below. All demonstrate how public investment in biomedical research drives scientific progress and benefits human health.
NIAID Unveils Roadmap Toward a Universal Flu Vaccine
In February, NIAID unveiled a strategic plan for developing a universal influenza vaccine—a vaccine that can provide durable protection for all age groups against multiple influenza strains, including those that might cause a pandemic. NIAID intends for the plan to serve as the foundation for its research investment to achieve the important public health goal of developing such a vaccine. In May, an NIAID-sponsored Phase 2 clinical trial of an investigational universal influenza vaccine began in the United States. Read the Feb. 28 media availability about the strategic plan and the May 4 news release about a trial of an experimental vaccine.
3D print of influenza virus. The viral surface (yellow) is covered with proteins called hemagglutinin (blue) and neuraminidase (red) that enable the virus to enter and infect human cells.
HIV Vaccine Elicits Neutralizing Antibodies in Animals
An experimental vaccine regimen based on a vulnerable site on HIV’s surface called the fusion peptide elicited antibodies in mice, guinea pigs and monkeys that neutralize dozens of HIV strains, scientists from NIAID’s Vaccine Research Center reported in June. Building on this work, they reported in October that a fusion-peptide-based vaccine regimen elicited antibodies in monkeys that neutralized up to 59 percent of viruses from a globally representative panel of 208 HIV strains. See the June 4 news release and Oct. 23 blog post.
This protein structure diagram illustrates the location of the fusion peptide epitope (red) on the HIV spike (green), which projects out of the viral membrane (grey). The diagram also shows how a broadly neutralizing antibody (yellow) binds to the fusion peptide.
NIAID Reinvigorates TB Research Program
In September, NIAID released a strategic plan addressing research on tuberculosis (TB), the leading infectious cause of death worldwide. The plan outlines strategic priorities that will build on current research efforts by furthering the understanding of TB and developing and applying cutting-edge tools to fight the disease. NIAID will implement and lead a reinvigorated research program to develop the tools for the transformative improvements in TB diagnosis, prevention and treatment that are needed to end TB. Read the Sept. 26 news release.
3D print of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes tuberculosis.
Combination Antibody Treatment Suppresses HIV
A small group of people with HIV tolerated multiple infusions of two anti-HIV broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs) that suppressed HIV for more than 15 weeks after the individuals stopped antiretroviral therapy in an NIAID-supported pilot clinical trial led by scientists at The Rockefeller University. In September, scientists at NIAID launched a separate study evaluating a combination of these two bNAbs in people living with HIV. See the Sept. 26 news release about the findings from the NIAID-supported study and the Sept. 20 news release about the new trial launch.
Bags of fluid for intravenous (IV) infusions.
Clinical Testing of Novel Ebola Treatments Begins
In May, a first-in-human trial evaluating an experimental treatment for Ebola virus disease began at the NIH Clinical Center. The Phase 1 clinical trial is examining the safety and tolerability of a single monoclonal antibody called mAb114, which was developed in part by NIAID researchers based on an antibody isolated from a human survivor of the 1995 Ebola outbreak in Kikwit, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In August, the DRC declared its 10th outbreak of Ebola. As part of the outbreak response, the National Institute of Biomedical Research (INRB) in the DRC and NIAID began in November a Phase 2/3 clinical trial of mAb114 and other investigational Ebola therapeutics, including ZMapp and remdesivir. The trial is enrolling patients of any age with confirmed Ebola virus disease at treatment units. See the May 23 news release about the Phase 1 trial launch and the Nov. 27 news release about the Phase 2/3 trial launch.
A healthy volunteer receives an intravenous infusion of mAb114—an experimental treatment for Ebola virus disease—in a Phase 1 clinical trial held at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
Stem Cell Transplant Improves Scleroderma Survival
Clinical trial findings reported in January showed that a therapeutic regimen involving transplantation of a person’s own blood-forming stem cells improves survival and quality of life for people with severe scleroderma, a life-threatening autoimmune disease. The NIAID-funded study found the regimen to be superior to treatment with the immune-suppressing drug cyclophosphamide. See the Jan. 3 news release.
A physician consults with a patient.
Credit: Daniel Sone, NCI
Short-Course Prophylaxis Prevents TB in People Living with HIV
A one-month antibiotic regimen to prevent active tuberculosis (TB) disease was at least as safe and effective as the standard nine-month therapy for people living with HIV, according to results from a Phase 3 clinical trial sponsored by NIAID. Adults and adolescents in the trial were more likely to complete the short-course regimen—consisting of daily doses of the antibiotics rifapentine and isoniazid for four weeks—than a nine-month regimen of daily isoniazid. See the March 5 news release.
Scanning electron micrograph of Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria, which cause TB.
Research Improves Diagnosis of Neurodegenerative Diseases
NIAID scientists developing a rapid, practical test for early diagnosis of rare prion diseases modified their assay to offer the possibility of improving early diagnosis of two more common neurodegenerative diseases—Parkinson’s disease and dementia with Lewy bodies. Early and accurate diagnoses of these brain disorders are essential for developing treatments and identifying patients eligible for clinical trials. The NIAID group continues to adapt the assay to detect additional types of neurological diseases with greater accuracy using the least invasive patient sample possible. See the Feb. 9 media availability.
NIAID’s Bradley Groveman, Ph.D., foreground, and Christina Orru, Ph.D., using the RT-QuIC diagnostic assay, which they helped adapt to detect Parkinson’s disease and dementia with Lewy bodies.
Bacteria Therapy for Eczema Shows Promise
Topical treatment with live Roseomonas mucosa—a bacterium naturally present on the skin—was safe for adults and children with eczema and was associated with reduced disease severity, according to initial findings from an ongoing early-phase clinical trial. Final results from this NIAID study will provide the foundation for larger trials to evaluate the efficacy of the novel investigational therapy. See the May 3 news release and related video.
A scientist demonstrates application of the experimental therapy for eczema to the inner elbow. For demonstration purposes, the bacteria solution has been replaced with purple dye.
Experimental RSV Vaccine Enters Clinical Testing
In June NIAID launched a clinical trial of an investigational vaccine designed to protect against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a common virus that infects the lungs and breathing passages and can cause severe symptoms. The Phase 1 study is enrolling a small group of healthy adult volunteers to examine the safety of an experimental intranasal vaccine and its ability to induce an immune response. See the June 14 news release.
This scanning electron micrograph image depicts RSV particles, colored blue.