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Manipulating the immune system to develop 'next-gen' vaccines

Burnet Institute

06 April, 2012

Clec9A binding to actin filaments within the cell. Photo coutesy of Justine Mintern.

Burnet Institute researchers have discovered one of the important ways dendritic (immune) cells recognise dead and damaged cells. This research improves our understanding of how the immune system recognises danger, and could significantly improve the effectiveness and side effects of vaccines in the future.

The new research, published today in Immunity, identifies for the first time, how a protein (called Clec9A) on the surface of the dendritic cell recognised damage that could indicate infection.

Dendritic cells are the ‘sentinal guard’ of the immune system, identifying any dangers in the body (such as viruses and parasites) and then mounting an immune response to those dangers.

Dr Mireille Lahoud first discovered (identified) Clec9A with Dr Irina Caminschi and Professor Ken Shortman, and completed this research at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute before joining Burnet.

“This work is an important piece in the puzzle in understanding how dendritic cells work. It could lead to the development of more effective, targeted vaccines which have fewer side effects,” Dr Lahoud said.

Professor Ken Shortman said the Clec9A protein is one of the best targets currently known for improving immune responses.

“By creating vaccines that bind to Clec9A, we can trick dendritic cells to think they have encountered a damaged cell and help to launch an immune response to the infectious agent of our choice,” Professor Shortman said.

“Targeting Clec9A could decrease the amount of vaccine needed by 100 to 1000 times. We are proposing a new type of vaccine that we know will head directly to the right cell to help stimulate an immune response.”

This work was supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, the Australian Research Council and the Victorian Government.

CLICK HERE to read more about this research.

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