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Scientists Invent a New Method to Create Synthetic Vaccines

Mar 29, 2013 10:15 AM EDT
foot and mouth disease
Livestock that died from foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) are placed by farmers outside a veterinary centre during a protest in Ibsheway el-Malaq village in Gharbia governorate March 12, 2012. Farmers on Monday protested against the government for not taking effective action to combat the outbreak of FMD in Egypt and demanded for compensation for their affected livestock. The farmers added that consumers are abstaining from purchasing beef and mutton, causing prices of fish and chicken to rise.
(Photo : REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

After the 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) among UK livestock, an epidemic that cost the nation an estimated $16 billion, scientists at Oxford and Reading Universities and the Pirbright Institute were tasked with developing a vaccine.

Twelve years and several medical breakthroughs later, the results of the teams' collaboration were recently published in the journal PLOS Pathogen.

Specifically, the scientists were determined to solve the two main obstacles facing vaccine-production everywhere: the threat of working with a live, infectious disease, and the necessity of keeping vaccines refrigerated at all times, a process called the cold-chain.

According to the article regarding the study, both have been solved through th used of the Diamond Light Source, a particle accelerator that sends electrons round a massive, mangetic ring at speeds close to that of light.

While such machines, called synchrotrons, have long been used to analyse viruses, the UK scientists were able to use it in order to create an entirely synthetic virus that is stable.

Diamond's Life Sciences Director and MRC Professor of Structural Biology at the University of Oxford, Dave Stuart, believes that the result of the study is something of a kryptonite to the disease that once ravaged his nation's economy.

"What we have achieved here is close to the holy grail of foot-and-mouth vaccines," he told the BBC. And nor does he believe that it stops with FMD.

"This work will have a broad and enduring impact on vaccine development, and the technology should be transferable to other viruses from the same family, such as poliovirus and hand-foot-and-mouth disease, a human virus which is currently endemic in South-East Asia."

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