Altering the DNA of disease-causing viruses can lead to the creation of safer, better vaccines.
Scientists can cut out the offending gene from a DNA sequence to cripple a virus so it cannot replicate or cause disease, said Lorne Babiuk, vice-president of research at the University of Alberta.
The result is a bioengineered vaccine made from this altered virus.
“These vaccines are safer and possibly more effective than conventional vaccines. They can offer broader spectrum immunity and they can’t revert back to virulence,” he said at the Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference held in Calgary Sept. 15-18.
“I am a firm believer that genomics will produce healthier animals, which will result in healthier people and improved economics, and more importantly, will secure a more stable environment to feed the world.”
Babiuk, an internationally recognized scientist in vaccine development, was part of a research team that created the first genetically modified vaccine for protection against a form of bovine respiratory disease. For many years he headed the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization in Saskatoon.
Babiuk predicted that most future vaccines will be engineered, and the public will probably more readily accept that form of genetic alteration, provided they are better educated on what the science is doing and why it is beneficial.
“We have been fantastic at technical innovations, and we have also been partially successful at business innovations … but I think we have been abysmal in social innovation.”
He said the public also needs to know how targeted this work has become.
In the early days of vaccine development, scientists did not know which gene was responsible for disease. Today, they can identify specific genes for removal or replacement along the gene sequence.
For example, lumpy skin disease is a major problem in sheep and goats in Africa. Removing the IL10 gene from the lumpy skin virus can create a better vaccine to provide protection against this condition.
In addition, scientists can insert other genes to the lumpy skin genome to protect against Rift Valley fever, a mosquito borne disease that affects most domestic animals in Africa.
Countries that want to eradicate diseases with these new style vaccines can show that an animal was vaccinated and is not a carrier. That way, trade is not blocked for health reasons.
Genomic analysis could also be used to select animals that are more robust with better immune systems or the ability to respond better to treatment.
Scientists know that animals and people respond differently to treatments with some being high or low responders. If they can figure out why this happens, more individualized medicine could be offered so patients receive the correct treatment.