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One-Two Punch: Vaccine Protects Mice Against Anthrax
By Nancy Touchette

Bacillus anthracis

A new anthrax vaccine has been developed that delivers a one-two punch. It kills the bacteria that causes the disease and destroys the toxin that ultimately leads to death.

Anthrax, the highly lethal, contagious disease caused by the Bacillus anthracis bacterium, is notoriously difficult to treat. Killing the bacteria with antibiotics unleashes anthrax toxin into the body, which triggers most of the harmful effects of the disease, including blood vessel leakage, shock, liver damage, and death. Only one anthrax vaccine, BioThrax, is available, but it only targets the toxin and not the bacterium itself.

The new vaccine targets the bacterium’s capsule, a membrane coating that helps the microbe escape destruction by the immune system. The vaccine also triggers an immune response against the anthrax toxin. In principle, the vaccine can stop the bacteria from spreading and prevent the harmful effects of the toxin.

“This new candidate vaccine should be right on target,” says Meryl Nass, of the Maine Medical Center in Portland, who specializes in anthrax and other infectious diseases.

The new vaccine, described in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was developed by Julia Wang and her colleagues at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachussetts.

Wang and her colleagues tested the vaccine on more than 100 mice that received four times the lethal dose of the most deadly component of the anthrax toxin. All of the unvaccinated mice died within 24 hours, but all of the vaccinated mice survived.

Wang and her colleagues are working on ways to further optimize the vaccine. She cautions that further testing is needed before the vaccine is commercially available.

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Rhie, G.-E. et al. A dually active anthrax vaccine that confers protection against both bacilli and toxins. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., published online September 2, 2003.

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