Mandi- Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Mandi have achieved a groundbreaking feat by designing a protein-based vaccine aimed at combating the Pork Tapeworm (T. solium). This tapeworm is not to be underestimated, as it is responsible for causing both intestinal infections and severe brain infections leading to seizures, as identified by the World Health Organization (WHO). The consequences are dire, with the pork tapeworm standing as a major contributor to foodborne fatalities and causing significant disability-adjusted life year losses.
In developing nations, this parasite plays a particularly alarming role, contributing to around 30% of epilepsy cases. In regions marked by poor hygiene and the presence of free-roaming pigs, this percentage skyrockets to a staggering 45-50%. To date, the approach to dealing with this menace has predominantly involved mass administration of deworming drugs like Albendazole and Praziquantel. However, this approach has faced formidable challenges, including a lack of widespread public participation and the looming threat of drug resistance. Consequently, it has fallen short of achieving the desired results.
Recognizing the urgent need for a vaccine to protect against the pork tapeworm, researchers at IIT Mandi have introduced a novel method for vaccine development, one that is not only faster but also more effective than the traditional approach. Traditionally, tapeworm vaccines have been formulated using products or antigens derived from tapeworm eggs or larvae. Yet, these methods often prove unreliable and can be time-consuming. Injecting the entire tapeworm or parts of it into the human body as a means to trigger the immune system is neither safe nor practical.
The safer and more promising approach adopted by the researchers involves injecting specific protein fragments from the tapeworm into humans. This strategy minimizes adverse effects and forestalls the tapeworm from developing resistance to the vaccine. However, the painstaking process of identifying the right protein fragment with robust vaccination potential presented a formidable hurdle. To expedite their progress, the scientists at IIT Mandi ingeniously combined protein studies with bioinformatics to create a selection method.
Their breakthrough discovery revealed that the vaccine effectively interacts with immune receptors, offering the promise of efficiently stimulating the body’s defense system. While this research lays a strong foundation for developing vaccines against similar parasites responsible for neglected tropical diseases, it is essential to underscore that further animal and clinical studies are imperative to assess the safety and efficacy of this promising vaccine candidate.
Lead author Dr. Amit Prasad, an Associate Professor at the School of Biosciences and Bioengineering at IIT Mandi, provided insight into their innovative methodology, stating, “First, we identified specific antigens from the cyst fluid of the tapeworm that trigger an immune response by testing them with the blood serum from patients. Then, we analyzed these antigens using immune-informatics tools to find safe and effective protein fragments. We combined these fragments to create a multi-part vaccine, taking into account factors such as size, stability, and compatibility with the immune system.”
This amalgamation of protein studies with bioinformatics marks a significant stride in identifying potential protein-based vaccines in a cost-effective and timely manner. It holds the potential to offer healthcare workers a potent tool in the fight against neurocysticercosis and potentially serve as a model for addressing a broader spectrum of neglected tropical diseases.