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News from the vaccine world

My training experiences at two international conferences on Spirochetes, by Abhijeet Nayak

Blog VacTrain Posted on 11 Feb, 2016 15:33

improvement is better than delayed perfection.” Mark Twain

This is
what I learned from the remarkable scientific community in the last two
international conferences, I had the opportunity to attend.

International Conference on Lyme Borreliosis was held in the beautiful city of
Vienna where I also have the privilege to pursue my studies. Moreover, the
Gordon Research Seminar (GRS) and Conference on Biology of Spirochetes took
place recently in Ventura, California. Both these conferences had two things in
common, excellent science and the enthusiasm of dynamic researchers to learn,
discuss and share ideas comprehensively with each other.

As a
PhD student, taking toddler’s steps in scientific research, it was highly
inspiring to present my results in front of experts in the field. Besides, the GRS
for students organized by students
was an outstanding concept. This enabled
scientific communication in a relaxed environment between early stage and experienced
research students to exchange their know-how in spirochete research. The career
development session held during the GRS was of particular interest and included
seven scientists at
different stages in their career and from diverse employment sectors (academia
and industry). The session focussed on funding opportunities for PhD students
and postdocs to find their way in the extensive world of research and
development. During the poster and oral
sessions, I acquired knowledge about diverse biological aspects of the pathogen
as well as clinical and translational aspects of the disease. This also provided me with concepts appropriate
for my own research, leaving me with the anticipation that there is so much
more to know and decipher.

“If we knew what we were
doing, it would not be called research, would it?” Albert Einstein

NETWORK, by Roberta Rovito

Blog VacTrain Posted on 02 Dec, 2015 10:35

The “Marie Curie Initial Training
Network VacTrain” title already contains what I consider one of the most
important tools, if not the most, that allows performing good research:
NETWORK. This pre-built network of high quality researchers, sharing the same
interests, helps in defining productive working relationships that you would
struggle in establishing from scratch during your PhD. This is beneficial not
only for the PhD project itself but also for ones future career. Indeed, you
get to learn new techniques and different ways of working outside your home
institute and your comfort zone as well as thinking outside the box. What is
more, this network of people will last after the end of the PhD program regardless
the position you are going to apply for. Just invest some time in maintaining
this network.

I have chosen to do part of my secondment in
Berlin, at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in order to learn how
to perform and analyse Next Generation Sequence data using Illumina HiSeq
platform. Vaccine development might be quite challenging when little is known
about specific virus-host interactions and how this influences the process of
discovering correlates of protection. Additionally, things get more complicated
when infants are the protagonists, e.g. when infections get transmitted during
pregnancy. As you might understand, this raises all kinds of Ethical issues
that make this field of research even more demanding. Finally, to make things
even more challenging the lack of a proper animal model that can resemble the
human situation plays a crucial role. Therefore, performing deep sequencing on
easily accessible samples from infants might help in defining at least the
appropriate direction to find the reasons why some patients manage to control
the disease and others do not. This will be essential in defining correlates of
protection for the future vaccine development for what might be one of the likely
target population, toddlers. You never know what to expect when you start
sequencing, like opening Pandora’s Box. Nevertheless be cautious, because “as we acquire more knowledge, things do not
become more comprehensible but more complex and mysterious
”, Albert
Schweitzer (1875-1965).

let’s not forget what these exchanges entail in addition to the improvement of
your scientific skills. First of all, you have the opportunity to discover beautiful
cities full of history that you would not have the chance otherwise. The interminable
hours spent in the lab and in front of the computer analysing data as a conditio sine qua non of being a PhD
student does not exactly help simplifying what is commonly needed in terms of
social relationships and trips! Finally, and outstandingly, if you are lucky
enough you might find that rare connection with some other PhD students that
soon enough become friends.


Narcolepsy, an unexpected adverse effect of influenza vaccination, by Ben Van der Zeijst

Blog VacTrain Posted on 29 Oct, 2015 22:55

After the declaration by WHO on 11
June 2009 of an influenza pandemic, caused by an H1N1 variant, large scale
vaccination was undertaken. There is a special European procedure for the
development and licensing of influenza vaccines. A so-called mock up dossier is
prepared using one influenza strain; later this strain is replaced by more
relevant strain. Limited clinical trials are carried out to determine safety
and efficacy, but these trials are not large enough to detect very rare adverse
effects. The adverse effect narcolepsy in children due to the vaccine Pandemrix
came as a big surprise. Narcolepsy is a naturally occurring disease affecting
about 1 in 2000 persons. The symptoms are sudden periods of uncontrolled sleep
and cataplexy, a short period of muscle weakness.
The disease makes a normal life
difficult and can be dangerous in traffic situations. There is no real cure.
The cause is degeneration of a group of nerve cells in the hypothalamus that
secrete hypocretin, a hormone involved in the control of waking and sleeping.

Last week I attended an expert
meeting in Geneva organized by the IABS and
the WHO.

The purpose of the meeting was to look back and
evaluate, also in the knowledge that there will be future outbreaks of
infectious diseases that require urgent mass vaccination with vaccines that not
have been tested in large cohorts.

The narcolepsy case is a true
detective story with initial doubts that vaccination had anything to do with
the disease, very difficult epidemiology due to the low incidence and genetic
predisposition for subject carrying the HLA-DQB1*0602 allele, the effect of media
attention on reported disease incidence and false research clues from a
retracted paper.

The first signals for a correlation
between vaccination with Pandremix and narcolepsy came from Finland in August
2010, but it took a long time before this correlation was validated. In Finland
1:16,000 vaccinated 4 to 19 years old developed narcolepsy. Vaccination in
Finland was stopped in September 2010. In populations with less genetic predisposition
the incidence was lower. In retrospect about 1300 cases of vaccine-associated
narcolepsy were identified among 30.5 million vaccinated persons. How
narcolepsy is caused is not yet know. The finding of protein homology between
viral proteins en hypocretin and the hypocretin receptor has led to a
hypothesis for autoimmunity, but this has not been proven. Work is going on to find
the exact cause.

Lessons learned were:
Adverse effects should be actively
monitored and quickly available for validation. This requires better Europe
wide monitoring.
Signals should be validated faster;
it took years before the causality was established.
When mass vaccination is carried out
against (potentially) serious diseases with new vaccines rare and unknown
safety problems may pop up.
If this happens real time
benefit-risk analysis should be in place to decide to continue with vaccination
or to stop.
Longer and broadly protecting
influenza vaccines are urgently needed. This would reduce the need for frequent
immunization and the connected adverse effects.

We have a vaccine against Ebola disease! By Ben van der Zeijst

Blog VacTrain Posted on 31 Jul, 2015 21:39

We are now almost a year and a
half into a severe epidemic in West Africa caused by Ebola virus with a total
of 27,748 cases and 11,294 deaths (41%) until July 26 2015.

Celebrations in Liberia after becoming Ebola free in May 2015. A couple
of new cases resurfaced 7 weeks later.

This outbreak could have been
prevented if a vaccine had been available. But since 1976, the year of the
first outbreak of Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo, no vaccine
has been developed, although there were no scientific and technical barriers.
There are two main reasons for that. 1. Until 2013 there were several new
outbreaks, due to contact with monkeys and fruit bats carrying the virus, but
they were always contained because communities understood that the disease is
transmissible and can be controlled by hygiene and isolation. In total 2387 cases
and 1590 deaths (67%) were recorded between 1976 and 2013

. 2. During these 37 years attempts were made to
develop a vaccine and many prototype vaccines were developed using seven
different vaccine platforms. Eight vaccines were even tested in primates, the
best model for man

. But further development was not undertaken, mainly
because of the high costs (several 100 millions of €) to develop a licensed
vaccine. For the pharmaceutical industry this would have been a project without
return on investment and there were no public or other parties feeling the need
to act. But after more than 2000 fatalities and the chance of an explosive

something had to be done. The WHO convened an
urgent meeting in which the two most promising vaccine candidates were selected
for further development. Both vaccines already showed promising results in
monkeys, the best model for man. Both vaccines are based on the Ebola virus
glycoprotein G but have different expression systems

. Phase 1 clinical trials were carried out and
showed that the two vaccines are safe for humans, meaning that phase 2/3
studies to measure the efficacy of the vaccines could start.

Today the results for one of
the two vaccines, developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada and produced
by Merck became available. The vaccine appears to be highly effective. The
Guardian reports

. Full scientific details as described in The Lancet can be found as a link in
this article.

VacTrainees at CMV conference in Brisbane, by Ilona Baraniak

Blog VacTrain Posted on 01 Jun, 2015 10:01

G’day from

the life of a PhD student can involve long days in the lab and seemingly
endless hours in front of computers analyzing data, occasionally we are
afforded the opportunity and privilege to travel and see the world. So I was
overjoyed when I and two other vactrainees- Roberta and Eleni received the
opportunity to attend the 5th International Congenital CMV Conference and 15th
international CMV/Beta herpes virus workshop which was held in Brisbane,

After a
long and tiring journey from London via Hong Kong I arrived in the city of
Brisbane on Australia’s east coast. Coming from Europe’s spring to the almost
tropical temperature of Brisbane was a little strange but I soon acclimatized
and fell in love with this beautiful modern city (although the fear of
poisonous snakes and spiders was never far from my mind).

conference did not disappoint! Taking place in Brisbane’s fantastic conference
centre on the south bank of the river, all our needs were catered for. It was
an amazing experience, a chance to present our research and talk face to face
with many experienced researchers in the field of CMV from different parts of
the world was very beneficial for our future carriers. I was very happy to
receive constructive feedback on my work from emeritus Prof Stanley Plotkin,
one of the leaders in the field of vaccinology and an inspirational scientist. Moreover,
the organizers prepared a variety of social events –so meeting, making friends
and sharing experiences with many other young researchers could not be any

Of course no trip to Australia would be complete
without seeing the amazing wild life that the country has to offer. So I was
very excited when on our last day we were taken on an exciting trip to an
animal sanctuary just outside Brisbane. Holding a koala in my arms and playing
with little kangaroos is an experience I will always remember.

Being in the Flow, by Ioanna Christopoulou

Blog VacTrain Posted on 22 Jan, 2015 12:15

Being a PhD
student is not always easy. Long hours in the lab, frustration when experiments
do not have the expected outcome, anxiety trying to meet deadlines for
abstracts, papers, meetings, reports. But it is not all bad; there are many
wonderful moments that should be cherished.

When I got the
opportunity to assist as a volunteer in Cell-VIB-Symposium: The Multifaceted
Roles of Type 2 Immunity Conference I did not think twice. My main task would
be to help at the registration desk and the Q&A sessions and at the same
time I could attend the presentations and poster sessions.

My anticipation
was building up until the first day of the symposium arrived. Waiting at the
reception for all the delegates to arrive I could not help but noticing
everybody’s excitement. They will wait for their badge, while taking a final
look at the program before entering the room to follow the presentations (also
asking questions about the picturesque city of Bruges). A mixed audience, as in
any conference, ranging from early stage researchers, PhD students like I, to well-established
scientists. One thing all having in common, their love for science and passion
for their work.

For these three
days, I was part of a buzzing community, eager to discuss and exchange results,
and form collaborations. Through lively discussion both at oral and poster
presentations I learnt a lot about different immunology aspects which gave me
ideas for my own research. To my surprise, the author workshop as mentioned to
the program, was an insight into the unknown world of scientific journals, with
the participation of two Cell editors answering questions for their peer
review/publishing procedure giving hints on how to have a successful outcome to
your paper submission. An advice
that one should always remember; fight for your paper and rebut a negative response
if you truly believe in your research.

Good Science requires good Communication! by Mariateresa Coppola

Blog VacTrain Posted on 21 Nov, 2014 08:50

As young
researchers, we really need to communicate our ideas and results to an audience
effectively, using articles, posters and oral presentations; moreover, since we
are all involved in the development of new vaccines, we should also be able to
inform and discuss our work with a broad audience, since it’s clear that the
successful story of a vaccine is linked to the number of vaccinated people.

Probably, we would
all agree that “communication” is not a skill that is easy to improve when you
are sitting alone in front of a computer. However when you test your abilities
with other people and receive constructive criticism from them, you can start reflecting
upon what you are learning and reshaping your ideas about the way you present
your work.

For this reason I
was really enthusiastic to join the course “Communication in Science” for PhD
students, organized in Leiden. It consisted of 5 sessions in which we (the
participants) experienced various forms of written and oral presentation from
an interactional perspective, discussing and reviewing the work of others, giving
and receiving feedback, commenting about posters, articles… it was worthwhile!

I learned a lot
from the tutor and the other students but the most useful recommendation was: never
forget the audience!
In fact, generally we are focused on what we want to
do, instead of what we want our audience to do as a result of reading what we wrote or listening
to what we said. So since you are my
audience and “effective communication uses information to move an audience from
an initial mixed state of knowledge to a final state of understanding”( S. Benka), I would like to share two articles suggested
during the course that may be useful for you in future:

G. Benka. Who is listening? what do they
Physics Today 2008; 61, 49

· P.J. Sterk, K.F. Rabe. The joy of
writing a paper
2008; 4: 224-232


ISSSI 2014 in Chicago, by Claudia Lindemann

Blog VacTrain Posted on 22 Sep, 2014 13:16

International Symposium of
Staphylococci and Staphylococcal Infection

32 years ago scientist from all over
the world started to meet biannually to present discuss progress in Staphylococcal
research. This year the 16th symposium took place in Chicago, hosted
by the University of Chicago. During the last three decades public interest in
this field grew, in particular through the increased development of antibiotic
resistance in Staphylococcus aureus
and epidermis, and more than 300 delegates
attended the conference. Through VacTrains support I was able to show my first
poster to a scientific audience there.

The 4 day program covered a range of
subjects including pathophysiology, “omics” (genomics, transcriptomics,
proteomics, metabolomics), regulation as well as therapeutic and prophylactic
interventions. Leading experts in their field gave an introduction in the
morning, followed by talks given by experienced researchers and junior
professors about cutting-edge results straight from the bench. Early-stage
researchers were then given the chance to present in the afternoon poster
sessions (more than 250 in just 4 days!).

“Vaccines against S. aureus disease” was the topic of
Thursday morning, emphasizing the importance of this preventive approach. Some
potential antigens as well as efficacy models were showcased and delegates from
industry gave an update on clinical trial outcomes of vaccines in their

In between presentations and talks,
one was given plenty of opportunities to network with experts from industry and
academia, talk to them over lunch, coffee or a gala dinner. Current issues and
challenges were discussed and I gained a lot of inspiration and ideas for my
own PhD project – which I could think about while discovering the vibrant metropolis
the following weekend.

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