University of Leeds

Developing a vaccine for life-threatening disease

Researchers at the University of Leeds are developing a cheaper and safer way of making vaccines, opening up the possibility that low-to-middle income countries can start their own vaccine programmes.

The traditional approach to making a vaccine is to use a live virus which requires strict biosecurity, but very few developing countries have the necessary secure laboratories.

The research team at Leeds, led by Professor Nicola Stonehouse and Professor Dave Rowlands, have shown that a vaccine can be manufactured by using virus-like particles ‘engineered’ in yeast.

The virus-like particles mimic the live virus but are harmless, doing away with the need for containment facilities. Batches of polio virus-like particles have been successfully produced in the laboratory and industrial-scale tests are about to start.

Professor Stonehouse said: “There is a real need to increase the production of vaccines and to conduct research into creating new ones, not only for humans but also to protect livestock.”

One of her former PhD students, Dr Oluwapelumi Adeyemi, is hoping the research at Leeds will one day allow him to investigate vaccines for some of the diseases in Nigeria, including Lassa fever – a category 4 pathogen requiring very strict biosecurity.