University of Saskatchewan

September 19, 2014   

Making Waves

in Human and Animal Health

Developing Vaccines for Newborns

Volker Gerdts
Volker Gerdts

U of S scientist Volker Gerdts and his team at VIDO are working to improve vaccines for newborns.

Newborns of all species are the most vulnerable to infections, yet because their immune systems are still developing, they are the least likely to be protected by vaccines.

Volker Gerdts heads the Neonatal Immunization Program at the U of S Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO), a world-leading centre for research and development of vaccine and immunotherapies for livestock and humans.

By 2010, a $110.3-million International Vaccine Centre will be built next to VIDO, significantly enhancing Canada’s capacity to develop and test new vaccines for both humans and animals. Diseases to be studied include tuberculosis, hepatitis C, SARS, HIV, and avian influenza.

Preventing Whooping Cough

Preventing Whooping Cough

Each year, 300,000 children die from whooping cough. Although vaccines are available, they require multiple immunizations and therefore are challenging to use in developing countries.

Gerdts and colleagues recently showed that vaccinating pregnant sows may protect newborn piglets from disease. As a result of vaccination, the sows developed antibodies against whooping cough bacteria B. pertussis. These antibodies were passed to the piglets through the sows’ milk. The technique is now at a stage where it can be studied in humans.

Protecting Global Health

The VIDO team, spearheaded by Lorne Babiuk, is working to develop single-shot vaccines for newborns, a complementary strategy to maternal vaccines which only protect infants in the first few weeks to months of life.

Gerdts, scientific manager of the project, says the goal is to create vaccines that protect newborns while eliminating both booster immunizations and needles.

With U.S. $5.6 million over five years from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation through its Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative, and $3 million over three years from the Krembil Foundation, the VIDO team is helping to turn the tide against infant mortality from respiratory infections such as whooping cough. Eventually, this technology will be applicable to vaccines for both infants and children.

Gerdts and colleagues are also working on new ways to control disease by stimulating the body’s innate immune system. This system can be activated by delivering a vaccine through the mouth or nose, where it is deposited directly to the mucosal surfaces of the respiratory tract. The vaccine stimulates a strong response at these surfaces, which is where most disease-causing organisms enter the body.


Unravelling Chronic Wasting Disease

Veterinary pathologist Trent Bollinger is leading a major project to unravel the mystery of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in wild deer.

Prions are infectious proteins that trigger similar, naturally occurring proteins in the body to mis-fold, causing diseases such as CWD in deer and elk, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or mad cow disease in cattle, and Creutzfeld- Jakob disease (CJD) in humans.

A variant of CJD in people has been linked to eating products from cattle infected with mad cow disease.

With funding from PrioNet Canada, Bollinger and his research team are using population genetics and radio tracking to determine where deer congregate and how they move within their habitat.

This research will help predict the spread of CWD in the wild and identify risk factors such as population density, social structure and land-use patterns, which potentially could be altered in order to manage the disease.

Dr. Alan Rosenberg
Dr. Alan Rosenberg

Tracking the Origins of Disease

According to Dr. Alan Rosenberg, the vast majority of adult health problems—from obesity and diabetes to osteoporosis and high blood pressure—have their roots in childhood, or even earlier in the womb.

As director of the U of S Paediatric Rheumatic Disease Laboratory, Dr. Rosenberg is recognized across Canada for his research and clinical treatment of childhood arthritis and related rheumatic diseases.

Rosenberg believes that good health is a result of both nature and nurture. Early causes of disease not only involve genetic factors, but also social and economic influences, nutrition, stress, and exposure to pollution. These factors can set children down a path to poor health long before they are capable of making their own lifestyle decisions.

With funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Canadian Arthritis Network, the Arthritis Society, and the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation, Dr. Rosenberg leads a national team of researchers in a $1.1-million study on how the interaction of genes, environment and lifestyle affects long-term health.

Dr. Rosenberg leads a national team of researchers studying how the interaction of genes, environment and lifestyle affects long-term health.

Dr. Rosenberg leads a national team of researchers studying
how the interaction of genes, environment and lifestyle
affects long-term health.

Rosenberg and his research team are specifically studying how the interplay of genes, lifestyle and environment can help predict Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA), a painful form of inflammatory joint disease that is one of the most common chronic and disabling conditions of childhood.

Understanding these interactions will help to ensure early diagnosis, improve treatment, and provide more effective prevention of JIA and other chronic diseases.

Advancing Treatment for Anxiety and Depression

Lisa Kalynchuk combines psychology and neuroscience to further the understanding and treatment of mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.

She and her U of S research team are working to understand what triggers symptoms of anxiety and depression in adults, and how the brain controls the development of these disorders.

Lisa Kalynchuk
Lisa Kalynchuk

Kalynchuk is studying both behavioural symptoms and neurobiological changes in animal models to help provide more effective and holistic treatment.

She is especially interested in the role that stress plays in depression. Her work shows that stress can cause memory problems, helpless behaviour and lack of motivation in animals, symptoms similar to those observed in people with depression. However, not all people who experience stress suffer from depression. Kalynchuk is studying how stressful events in early childhood and the quality of maternal care affect susceptibility to anxiety and depression in adulthood.

Her research with rat pups shows that interventions such as enriched environments— including treats, toys and running wheels—can counteract changes in the brain that seem to increase susceptibility to depression in later life. This could indicate that activities such as exercise and relaxation are as important as medication in treating depression.

A key part of Kalynchuk’s research is translating the knowledge gained by her work in the lab to help mental health professionals provide more effective treatment.