News from the vaccine world

My training experiences at two international conferences on Spirochetes, by Abhijeet NayakBlog VacTrain

Posted by Wendy van Hemmen 11 Feb, 2016 15:33

“Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.” Mark Twain

This is what I learned from the remarkable scientific community in the last two international conferences, I had the opportunity to attend.

The International Conference on Lyme Borreliosis was held in the beautiful city of Vienna where I also have the privilege to pursue my studies. Moreover, the Gordon Research Seminar (GRS) and Conference on Biology of Spirochetes took place recently in Ventura, California. Both these conferences had two things in common, excellent science and the enthusiasm of dynamic researchers to learn, discuss and share ideas comprehensively with each other.

As a PhD student, taking toddler’s steps in scientific research, it was highly inspiring to present my results in front of experts in the field. Besides, the GRS for students organized by students was an outstanding concept. This enabled scientific communication in a relaxed environment between early stage and experienced research students to exchange their know-how in spirochete research. The career development session held during the GRS was of particular interest and included seven scientists at different stages in their career and from diverse employment sectors (academia and industry). The session focussed on funding opportunities for PhD students and postdocs to find their way in the extensive world of research and development. During the poster and oral sessions, I acquired knowledge about diverse biological aspects of the pathogen as well as clinical and translational aspects of the disease. This also provided me with concepts appropriate for my own research, leaving me with the anticipation that there is so much more to know and decipher.

“If we knew what we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?” Albert Einstein
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NETWORK, by Roberta RovitoBlog VacTrain

Posted by Wendy van Hemmen 02 Dec, 2015 10:35

The “Marie Curie Initial Training Network VacTrain” title already contains what I consider one of the most important tools, if not the most, that allows performing good research: NETWORK. This pre-built network of high quality researchers, sharing the same interests, helps in defining productive working relationships that you would struggle in establishing from scratch during your PhD. This is beneficial not only for the PhD project itself but also for ones future career. Indeed, you get to learn new techniques and different ways of working outside your home institute and your comfort zone as well as thinking outside the box. What is more, this network of people will last after the end of the PhD program regardless the position you are going to apply for. Just invest some time in maintaining this network.

I have chosen to do part of my secondment in Berlin, at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in order to learn how to perform and analyse Next Generation Sequence data using Illumina HiSeq platform. Vaccine development might be quite challenging when little is known about specific virus-host interactions and how this influences the process of discovering correlates of protection. Additionally, things get more complicated when infants are the protagonists, e.g. when infections get transmitted during pregnancy. As you might understand, this raises all kinds of Ethical issues that make this field of research even more demanding. Finally, to make things even more challenging the lack of a proper animal model that can resemble the human situation plays a crucial role. Therefore, performing deep sequencing on easily accessible samples from infants might help in defining at least the appropriate direction to find the reasons why some patients manage to control the disease and others do not. This will be essential in defining correlates of protection for the future vaccine development for what might be one of the likely target population, toddlers. You never know what to expect when you start sequencing, like opening Pandora’s Box. Nevertheless be cautious, because “as we acquire more knowledge, things do not become more comprehensible but more complex and mysterious”, Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965).

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But let’s not forget what these exchanges entail in addition to the improvement of your scientific skills. First of all, you have the opportunity to discover beautiful cities full of history that you would not have the chance otherwise. The interminable hours spent in the lab and in front of the computer analysing data as a conditio sine qua non of being a PhD student does not exactly help simplifying what is commonly needed in terms of social relationships and trips! Finally, and outstandingly, if you are lucky enough you might find that rare connection with some other PhD students that soon enough become friends.

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Narcolepsy, an unexpected adverse effect of influenza vaccination, by Ben Van der ZeijstBlog VacTrain

Posted by Ben van der Zeijst 29 Oct, 2015 22:55

After the declaration by WHO on 11 June 2009 of an influenza pandemic, caused by an H1N1 variant, large scale vaccination was undertaken. There is a special European procedure for the development and licensing of influenza vaccines. A so-called mock up dossier is prepared using one influenza strain; later this strain is replaced by more relevant strain. Limited clinical trials are carried out to determine safety and efficacy, but these trials are not large enough to detect very rare adverse effects. The adverse effect narcolepsy in children due to the vaccine Pandemrix came as a big surprise. Narcolepsy is a naturally occurring disease affecting about 1 in 2000 persons. The symptoms are sudden periods of uncontrolled sleep and cataplexy, a short period of muscle weakness. The disease makes a normal life difficult and can be dangerous in traffic situations. There is no real cure. The cause is degeneration of a group of nerve cells in the hypothalamus that secrete hypocretin, a hormone involved in the control of waking and sleeping.

Last week I attended an expert meeting in Geneva organized by the IABS and the WHO.

The purpose of the meeting was to look back and evaluate, also in the knowledge that there will be future outbreaks of infectious diseases that require urgent mass vaccination with vaccines that not have been tested in large cohorts.

The narcolepsy case is a true detective story with initial doubts that vaccination had anything to do with the disease, very difficult epidemiology due to the low incidence and genetic predisposition for subject carrying the HLA-DQB1*0602 allele, the effect of media attention on reported disease incidence and false research clues from a retracted paper.

The first signals for a correlation between vaccination with Pandremix and narcolepsy came from Finland in August 2010, but it took a long time before this correlation was validated. In Finland 1:16,000 vaccinated 4 to 19 years old developed narcolepsy. Vaccination in Finland was stopped in September 2010. In populations with less genetic predisposition the incidence was lower. In retrospect about 1300 cases of vaccine-associated narcolepsy were identified among 30.5 million vaccinated persons. How narcolepsy is caused is not yet know. The finding of protein homology between viral proteins en hypocretin and the hypocretin receptor has led to a hypothesis for autoimmunity, but this has not been proven. Work is going on to find the exact cause.

Lessons learned were:
1. Adverse effects should be actively monitored and quickly available for validation. This requires better Europe wide monitoring.
2. Signals should be validated faster; it took years before the causality was established.
3. When mass vaccination is carried out against (potentially) serious diseases with new vaccines rare and unknown safety problems may pop up.
4. If this happens real time benefit-risk analysis should be in place to decide to continue with vaccination or to stop.
5. Longer and broadly protecting influenza vaccines are urgently needed. This would reduce the need for frequent immunization and the connected adverse effects.













We have a vaccine against Ebola disease! By Ben van der ZeijstBlog VacTrain

Posted by Ben van der Zeijst 31 Jul, 2015 21:39

We are now almost a year and a half into a severe epidemic in West Africa caused by Ebola virus with a total of 27,748 cases and 11,294 deaths (41%) until July 26 2015.

Blog image Celebrations in Liberia after becoming Ebola free in May 2015. A couple
of new cases resurfaced 7 weeks later.

This outbreak could have been prevented if a vaccine had been available. But since 1976, the year of the first outbreak of Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo, no vaccine has been developed, although there were no scientific and technical barriers. There are two main reasons for that. 1. Until 2013 there were several new outbreaks, due to contact with monkeys and fruit bats carrying the virus, but they were always contained because communities understood that the disease is transmissible and can be controlled by hygiene and isolation. In total 2387 cases and 1590 deaths (67%) were recorded between 1976 and 2013 . 2. During these 37 years attempts were made to develop a vaccine and many prototype vaccines were developed using seven different vaccine platforms. Eight vaccines were even tested in primates, the best model for man . But further development was not undertaken, mainly because of the high costs (several 100 millions of €) to develop a licensed vaccine. For the pharmaceutical industry this would have been a project without return on investment and there were no public or other parties feeling the need to act. But after more than 2000 fatalities and the chance of an explosive increase something had to be done. The WHO convened an urgent meeting in which the two most promising vaccine candidates were selected for further development. Both vaccines already showed promising results in monkeys, the best model for man. Both vaccines are based on the Ebola virus glycoprotein G but have different expression systems . Phase 1 clinical trials were carried out and showed that the two vaccines are safe for humans, meaning that phase 2/3 studies to measure the efficacy of the vaccines could start.

Today the results for one of the two vaccines, developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada and produced by Merck became available. The vaccine appears to be highly effective. The Guardian reports . Full scientific details as described in The Lancet can be found as a link in this article.



VacTrainees at CMV conference in Brisbane, by Ilona BaraniakBlog VacTrain

Posted by Wendy van Hemmen 01 Jun, 2015 10:01

G’day from Australia!

Although the life of a PhD student can involve long days in the lab and seemingly endless hours in front of computers analyzing data, occasionally we are afforded the opportunity and privilege to travel and see the world. So I was overjoyed when I and two other vactrainees- Roberta and Eleni received the opportunity to attend the 5th International Congenital CMV Conference and 15th international CMV/Beta herpes virus workshop which was held in Brisbane, Australia.

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After a long and tiring journey from London via Hong Kong I arrived in the city of Brisbane on Australia’s east coast. Coming from Europe’s spring to the almost tropical temperature of Brisbane was a little strange but I soon acclimatized and fell in love with this beautiful modern city (although the fear of poisonous snakes and spiders was never far from my mind).

The conference did not disappoint! Taking place in Brisbane’s fantastic conference centre on the south bank of the river, all our needs were catered for. It was an amazing experience, a chance to present our research and talk face to face with many experienced researchers in the field of CMV from different parts of the world was very beneficial for our future carriers. I was very happy to receive constructive feedback on my work from emeritus Prof Stanley Plotkin, one of the leaders in the field of vaccinology and an inspirational scientist. Moreover, the organizers prepared a variety of social events –so meeting, making friends and sharing experiences with many other young researchers could not be any easier.

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Of course no trip to Australia would be complete without seeing the amazing wild life that the country has to offer. So I was very excited when on our last day we were taken on an exciting trip to an animal sanctuary just outside Brisbane. Holding a koala in my arms and playing with little kangaroos is an experience I will always remember.

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Being in the Flow, by Ioanna ChristopoulouBlog VacTrain

Posted by Ben van der Zeijst 22 Jan, 2015 12:15

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Being a PhD student is not always easy. Long hours in the lab, frustration when experiments do not have the expected outcome, anxiety trying to meet deadlines for abstracts, papers, meetings, reports. But it is not all bad; there are many wonderful moments that should be cherished.

When I got the opportunity to assist as a volunteer in Cell-VIB-Symposium: The Multifaceted Roles of Type 2 Immunity Conference I did not think twice. My main task would be to help at the registration desk and the Q&A sessions and at the same time I could attend the presentations and poster sessions.

My anticipation was building up until the first day of the symposium arrived. Waiting at the reception for all the delegates to arrive I could not help but noticing everybody’s excitement. They will wait for their badge, while taking a final look at the program before entering the room to follow the presentations (also asking questions about the picturesque city of Bruges). A mixed audience, as in any conference, ranging from early stage researchers, PhD students like I, to well-established scientists. One thing all having in common, their love for science and passion for their work.

For these three days, I was part of a buzzing community, eager to discuss and exchange results, and form collaborations. Through lively discussion both at oral and poster presentations I learnt a lot about different immunology aspects which gave me ideas for my own research. To my surprise, the author workshop as mentioned to the program, was an insight into the unknown world of scientific journals, with the participation of two Cell editors answering questions for their peer review/publishing procedure giving hints on how to have a successful outcome to your paper submission. An advice that one should always remember; fight for your paper and rebut a negative response if you truly believe in your research.





Good Science requires good Communication! by Mariateresa CoppolaBlog VacTrain

Posted by Ben van der Zeijst 21 Nov, 2014 08:50

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As young researchers, we really need to communicate our ideas and results to an audience effectively, using articles, posters and oral presentations; moreover, since we are all involved in the development of new vaccines, we should also be able to inform and discuss our work with a broad audience, since it’s clear that the successful story of a vaccine is linked to the number of vaccinated people.

Probably, we would all agree that “communication” is not a skill that is easy to improve when you are sitting alone in front of a computer. However when you test your abilities with other people and receive constructive criticism from them, you can start reflecting upon what you are learning and reshaping your ideas about the way you present your work.

For this reason I was really enthusiastic to join the course “Communication in Science” for PhD students, organized in Leiden. It consisted of 5 sessions in which we (the participants) experienced various forms of written and oral presentation from an interactional perspective, discussing and reviewing the work of others, giving and receiving feedback, commenting about posters, articles… it was worthwhile!

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I learned a lot from the tutor and the other students but the most useful recommendation was: never forget the audience! In fact, generally we are focused on what we want to do, instead of what we want our audience to do as a result of reading what we wrote or listening to what we said. So since you are my audience and “effective communication uses information to move an audience from an initial mixed state of knowledge to a final state of understanding”( S. Benka), I would like to share two articles suggested during the course that may be useful for you in future:

· Stephen G. Benka. Who is listening? what do they hear? Physics Today 2008; 61, 49

· P.J. Sterk, K.F. Rabe. The joy of writing a paper Breathe 2008; 4: 224-232

Enjoy!







ISSSI 2014 in Chicago, by Claudia LindemannBlog VacTrain

Posted by Ben van der Zeijst 22 Sep, 2014 13:16

International Symposium of Staphylococci and Staphylococcal Infection

Blog image32 years ago scientist from all over the world started to meet biannually to present discuss progress in Staphylococcal research. This year the 16th symposium took place in Chicago, hosted by the University of Chicago. During the last three decades public interest in this field grew, in particular through the increased development of antibiotic resistance in Staphylococcus aureus and epidermis, and more than 300 delegates attended the conference. Through VacTrains support I was able to show my first poster to a scientific audience there.


The 4 day program covered a range of subjects including pathophysiology, “omics” (genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, metabolomics), regulation as well as therapeutic and prophylactic interventions. Leading experts in their field gave an introduction in the morning, followed by talks given by experienced researchers and junior professors about cutting-edge results straight from the bench. Early-stage researchers were then given the chance to present in the afternoon poster sessions (more than 250 in just 4 days!).

“Vaccines against S. aureus disease” was the topic of Thursday morning, emphasizing the importance of this preventive approach. Some potential antigens as well as efficacy models were showcased and delegates from industry gave an update on clinical trial outcomes of vaccines in their pipelines.

In between presentations and talks, one was given plenty of opportunities to network with experts from industry and academia, talk to them over lunch, coffee or a gala dinner. Current issues and challenges were discussed and I gained a lot of inspiration and ideas for my own PhD project – which I could think about while discovering the vibrant metropolis the following weekend.

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