The grant from the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases will aid Kang’s research in developing a virus-like particle, or VLP, vaccine technology.
VLPs mimic viruses, but are non-infectious, which allows for safer vaccines, especially for young children, elderly people and patients whose immune systems are compromised. VLPs trigger the immune system to respond, leading to immunity in the same way that regular vaccines made with whole viruses act.
“VLPs are a result of new technology using recombinant genetic engineering,” Kang said. “VLP technology can manipulate pathogens in a safe way so that we can design a vaccine mimicking the shape and structure of a virus.
“A VLP is an empty particle without the genetic information of a pathogen, thus highlighting its safety.”
The potential of this research could lead to not only better vaccines for influenza, which is potentially deadly in some patients and which has led to deaths during this year’s flu season, but also RSV.
RSV is a respiratory virus that infects the lungs and breathing passages. Most healthy people can recover from RSV infection in one to two weeks, but infections can be severe in young children, infants and older adults.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 75,000 to 125,000 hospitalizations related to RSV occur among children under one year old, and RSV infection results in about 1.5 million outpatient medical visits among children under the age of five.
Kang’s lab will test VLP technology and ways to deliver the vaccines without long needles, such as nasal delivery, microneedles and oral vaccination.