An Indiana University researcher is working to ensure children in developing countries may soon have better protection from the rotavirus, thanks to a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
John Patton, Blatt Chair of Virology and professor of microbiology [in the College of Arts and Sciences Department of Biology] at IU, received $293,500 from the foundation to identify features of the rotavirus vaccine strains for modification which will induce higher levels of immunization.
"Several oral rotavirus vaccines have been developed over the last several years and while these vaccines work remarkably well in the United States and other advanced countries, the same vaccines are much less effective in many low-income countries," Patton said. "Through funds provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, we hope to develop a new generation of rotavirus vaccines that provide better protection to the children of low-income countries."
Rotavirus strains are the main cause for severe diarrheal illness in infants and young children across the globe. In the United States, the rotavirus vaccine is 80 to 90 percent effective, but it has just 40 to 70 percent effectiveness in developing countries. Patton hopes to create a vaccine specifically for developing countries that will work just as effectively as the one currently used in the developed world.
A reverse genetics system has been developed to allow the rotavirus genome to be genetically altered. Using this system, the existing strains of the vaccine can be modified to perform better and immunize against more rotavirus strains.
In addition to this work, Patton is currently developing a new technology for a combination oral rotavirus-norovirus vaccine for infants. The technology, first developed by Patton and graduate student Asha Philip, changes the readily available rotavirus vaccine to also protect against norovirus, a highly contagious virus that can cause severe vomiting and diarrhea in young children.
No vaccine currently exists that can prevent norovirus infection and while most adults recover from viral diarrhea, such illness in young children can lead to hospitalization and life-threatening dehydration. Globally, Patton said, more than 100,000 childhood deaths occur each year due to norovirus infection.