A multi-disciplinary team of researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School for Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering developed a biomaterial-based infection vaccine (ciVAX) that could be broadly applied to treat drug-resistant microbial infections, including sepsis. According to the Sepsis Alliance, about 38 amputations a day are caused by sepsis and about 1 percent of sepsis survivors undergo one or more surgical amputations of a limb or digit as a result of sepsis.
The vaccine could also be used to treat epidemic outbreaks of pathogenic bacteria, and the possibility of new biothreats that might emerge in the future. Injected or implanted under the skin, ciVAX vaccines reprogram the immune system to take action against pathogens.
“The protective powers of the vaccines that we have designed and tested so far and the immune responses they stimulated are extremely encouraging, and open up a wide range of potential vaccine applications ranging from sepsis prophylaxis to rapid measures against future pandemic threats and biothreats….,” said corresponding author David Mooney, PhD, Robert P. Pinkas Family Professor of Bioengineering at SEAS and a Founding Core Faculty member at the Wyss Institute.
In their study, the researchers successfully tested ciVAX technology as a protective measure against the most common causes of sepsis, including Gram-positive S. aureus and Gram-negative E. coli strains.
They found that a prophylactic ciVAX vaccine protected all vaccinated mice against a lethal attack with an antibiotic-resistant E. coli strain, while only 9 percent of unvaccinated control animals survived. In a pig model of septic shock induced by a different human E. coli isolate, a ciVAX vaccine prevented the development of sepsis in all four animals, while four unvaccinated animals developed severe and sudden sepsis within 12 hours.
Editor’s note: This story was adapted from materials provided by The Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
Photo caption: Sepsis is caused by pathogenic bacteria (in blue) in the bloodstream, and can be fatal if not treated quickly. According to the CDC, nearly 270,000 Americans die as a result of sepsis and one in three patients who dies in a hospital has sepsis.
Photograph by Shutterstock/Kateryna Kon.