Biomedical engineers aim to develop more effective TB vaccine

Illustration of cartoon people in front of a big set of human lungs.

Release Date: September 9, 2022

Jon Lovell in a lab.
“We are trying to develop an improved tuberculosis vaccine ”
Jonathan F. Lovell, SUNY Empire Innovation Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering

BUFFALO, N.Y. - Developing a more effective vaccine for tuberculosis is the goal of National Institutes of Health-funded research led by University at Buffalo faculty member Jonathan F. Lovell.

Lovell, SUNY Empire Innovation Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering, is co-principal investigator on the study “Developing a Multivalent Subunit Particle Vaccine against Tuberculosis.” It is funded for $1.4 million over three years by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; it is subject to an additional two years of funding if certain milestones are met in the first three years.

“We are trying to develop an improved tuberculosis vaccine,” Lovell says. “To do so, we will develop protein nanoparticle vaccines and test their efficacy in collaboration with researchers at Colorado State University.”

To design an effective multivalent TB vaccine, nanoparticles will be decorated with established recombinant antigens using a next-generation adjuvant system that induces seamless, spontaneous and biostable antigen surface display, Lovell explains.

Key parameters of particle formation will be examined and the vaccine will be benchmarked against Bacillus Calmette–Guérin vaccination and tested in mouse and guinea pig animal models of TB infection, he adds.

Lovell is collaborating on the study with Elizabeth A. Wohlfert, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology, who will provide immunology expertise.

Andres Obregnon Henao, senior research scientist at Colorado State University, is co-principal investigator.

“We connected, as we were interested in TB vaccines and he is an expert on the animal disease model,” Lovell says of his work with Henao.

Lovell notes that tuberculosis is a serious problem globally, causing more deaths than malaria and HIV.

It is the second-leading infectious killer after COVID-19, according to the World Health Organization.

Lovell says several factors have contributed to the difficulties in developing an effective vaccine for tuberculosis.

“For one, the bacterium hides out inside immune cells, making it difficult for the immune system to target,” he says. “A second issue is that it is not yet clear what makes a good TB vaccine.”

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