A group of scientists in Italy have developed a vaccine with the potential to protect against fungal pathogens that commonly infect humans, according to a study by Torosantucci and colleagues in the September 5 issue of The Journal of Experimental Medicine. Although these fungi pose little threat to people with healthy immune systems, they can cause fatal infections in those whose immune systems have been weakened by cancer treatments or post-transplant immunosuppressive therapies. No anti-fungal vaccines are currently available.
The new vaccine was made of a sugar-like molecule called beta-glucan that is found on the cell wall of the fungus and that the fungus needs to grow and survive. To induce a robust immune response to the vaccine, the group attached the relatively innocuous beta-glucan to a protein called diptheria toxin that is known to stimulate the immune system and has been used in other human vaccines.
The vaccine protected rodents from fatal fungal infections by triggering the production of anti-beta-glucan antibodies. These antibodies stuck to the invading fungal cell wall and prevented the fungus from growing. The authors now plan to test the vaccine in humans and hope the results are equally promising.