Vaccines have led to the eradication of smallpox and near-eradication of polio. They have drastically reduced cases of measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, and many other infectious diseases.
When Edward Jenner pioneered the smallpox vaccine in the late 1700’s, his observation that milk-maids seemed immune to smallpox rapidly inspired ‘clinical trials’ that ultimately led to the world’s first vaccine. More than two centuries later, vaccines have contributed to global reductions in the public health impact of many more infectious diseases.
If your immune system is thought of as a police force, the goal of a vaccine is to serve as a system-wide wanted ad. Vaccines are often delivered with ‘adjuvants’, which are accessories that better arm your immune system to fight off the potential invader. Therefore, vaccines educate the immune system on how to best respond once it does encounter an invader that matches the wanted ad.
However, some diseases remain difficult to vaccinate against. Some, such as influenza, look very different from one year to another. Others, such as HIV, can hide inside cells they infect (although HIV is also good at mutating itself to disguise itself from immune recognition).
Our researchers are working to improve vaccines by improving the potency and specificity of adjuvants, using computational methods to make better wanted ads. Together, we are working towards training the immune system to be more capable of recognizing disease-causing pathogens.