Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Safe Vaccine for a Sore Throat – and Heart Disease

An international team has determined how Group A Streptococcus (strep) bacteria resists the human immune system, opening the way to the development of a safe vaccine against strep throat and rheumatic heart disease.

Dr Jason Cole of the University of Queensland said that previous efforts to develop a strep throat vaccine had led to immune system reactions that caused other diseases such as rheumatic fever and heart damage. “We have discovered genes that make up the cell wall of the strep bacteria, which is composed mainly of the group A carbohydrate,” he said.

The group A carbohydrate was previously thought to play a structural role in the bacterial cell walls. “We have now confirmed that it actually plays a critical role in how the bacteria resist the immune response,” Cole said. “This may trigger diseases such as rheumatic heart disease, which has hindered the development of a safe vaccine.

“Based on this information, we are now able to produce a modified group A carbohydrate for further vaccine studies, avoiding previous safety concerns associated with a strep vaccine.”

The study was published in Cell Host & Microbe, with pre-clinical trials of the modified vaccine now attempting to demonstrate that the vaccine is safe and effective enough to proceed to human clinical trials.