New understanding of Strep A immunity could lead to effective vaccine

21 February 2024 | Muriel Cozier

‘The overwhelming burden of disease is shouldered by middle, and low-income countries.’

A global research team, led by Imperial College London, UK, and the University of California San Diego, US, has been established to research streptococcal (Strep A) bacterial infection.

Strep A bacterial infection is said to be the cause of around half a million deaths each year around the world, including children. Most cases of the infection are relatively mild, affecting only the skin or throat. However, some infections can lead to sepsis or autoimmune damage to the heart. There is currently no vaccine for Strep A.

The project; Immunity to Streptococcus pyogenes (iSpy Network), which is supported by funding from the Leducq Foundation, brings together 28 researchers from 11 countries and includes experts in immunology, infectious disease, epidemiology, vaccinology and experimental medicine. The Leducq Foundation is a not-for-profit private foundation, which is focused on ‘improving human health through international efforts to combat cardiovascular disease.’

‘In recent years we’ve seen a concerning upsurge in Strep A in the UK, with a significant number of deaths among children. Yet the overwhelming burden of disease is shouldered by middle, and low-income countries […] Through the iSpy Network, we will collaborate widely, including with partners in The Gambia, South Africa, Brazil and Fiji, to gain a better understanding of the body’s immune response to Strep A and determine the most effective way to vaccinate against Strep A,’ said Professor Shiranee Sriskandan, from Imperial College’s Department of Infectious Disease.

The five-year project, which has two sub-networks: iSpy-LIFE and iSpy-EXPLORE, brings together many researchers who will deploy a range of techniques to understand more about Strep A immunity. ‘The new information should have major impact toward alleviating the burden of Strep A across the world,’ said University of California San Diego's Professor Victor Nizet.

Strep A is highly transmissible and spreads from person to person mostly via the respiratory route from sore throats. Unlike children, adults are mostly immune to Strep A sore throats and skin infections. However, both groups are very susceptible to the invasive form of the infection. Repeated exposure to Strep A infection can also cause autoimmune damage to the valves of the heart, which impacts some 50 million people worldwide, with the majority living in low to middle-income countries.

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