Of the 15 to 20 million cases of otitis media each year in the United States, about 10% are recurring. Now, University at Buffalo (UB) scientists have received a $1.5 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to develop a vaccine against recurrent ear infections.

U-Buffalo Timothy-Murphy opt
Timothy F. Murphy, MD

The goal of the current research, funded by the NIH’s National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), is to identify new virulence mechanisms for this understudied pathogen, identify the structure of a candidate antigen for a new vaccine, and develop a new vaccine.

According to Timothy F. Murphy, MD, SUNY Distinguished Professor of Medicine and Microbiology in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and principal investigator, research on M. oraxella catarrhalis has lagged because it was originally believed to be a “commensal” or harmless bacterium. While it does cause milder cases of middle ear infections (otitis media) than other bacteria, Murphy said it is becoming more prevalent. Preliminary evidence also shows that existing ear infection vaccines are changing colonization patterns among otitis media pathogens, possibly increasing the prevalence of M. catarrhalis infections.

The goal of the UB researchers is to identify M. catarrhalis antigens that are very similar among all strains, so that a vaccine based on a single antigen will protect against as many strains of the bacterium as possible.

Murphy and his colleagues are using bioinformatics to identify genes predicted to encode proteins on the surface of the organism, construct a gene chip to test which of more than 300 possible genes on the surface are identical or similar among multiple strains and then clone genes for some of the predicted proteins for testing in in vitro and mouse models.  

A new vaccine could be ready for human testing in 3 to 5 years, according to the UB press release.

SOURCE: University at Buffalo news release