Researchers Develop New Synthetic Vaccine to Prevent the Spread of MERS

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Synthetic VaccineResearchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine have announced the development of a new synthetic vaccine to prevent the outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in animals, which in turn may help prevent the spread of the disease around the world. Their findings have been published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

For the study, researchers started by testing their synthetic vaccine on rhesus macaques, a breed of monkey. After six weeks, they exposed the animals to the MERS virus and found that the monkeys were completely protected from the virus.

The researchers also found that their vaccine worked to trigger helpful antibodies that are linked to MERS protection in camels. This is important, since one of the common ways MERS spreads in the Middle East is from camels to humans. If the vaccine can effectively protect camels, it may help to break the link in animal-to-human transmission. Clinical trials to test the vaccine on humans are expected to start later this year.

News of this promising vaccine comes shortly after a recent rise in MERS cases throughout the Middle East—22 cases were confirmed by the Ministry of Health in Saudi Arabia, just between August 17 and August 19. The first MERS case was reported back in 2012 in Saudi Arabia, but has since spread outside of the Middle East. The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that 36% of diagnosed MERS cases have been fatal. The risk of exposure in the U.S. is said to be very minimal right now.

Common symptoms of the MERS virus include coughing, trouble breathing, fever, diarrhea, and vomiting. It isn’t yet clear how this respiratory virus spreads between people, although it is known that transmission can only occur with close contact. There is currently no specific treatment or vaccine for MERS.

Sources for Today’s Article:
Pietrangelo, A., “DNA Synthetic Vaccine May Protect Against MERS Virus,” Healthline web site, August 19, 2015;

Muthumani, K., et al., “A synthetic consensus anti–spike protein DNA vaccine induces protective immunity against Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus in nonhuman primates,” Science Translational Medicine 2015; 7(301): 301ra132.