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Early Tests Show SARS Vaccine May Be Possible

Experimental Treatments Could One Day Help Target Communities
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WebMD Health News

June 24, 2004 -- Two new experimental treatments may eventually be able to help protect humans from the threat of severe acute respiratory syndrome. Researchers say initial animal tests show that it may be possible to immunize humans against the potentially deadly SARS virus using a SARS vaccine or other means of boosting the immune system's defenses.

Two studies published in this week's issue of The Lancet, show a inhaled vaccine and an antibody injection were both effective at protecting animals against developing the severe lung disease caused by the SARS virus.

Although more research is needed before these approaches can be tested in human, researchers say the results show the potential for development of a SARS vaccine.

Potential for SARS Vaccine Revealed

In the first study, researchers looked at the effects of a single dose of an intranasal vaccine derived from a pediatric flu vaccine in preventing SARS in a group of African green monkeys. In their experiment, the weakened flu virus contained in the pediatric vaccine was genetically altered to have components of the SARS virus coating.

The study showed that monkeys who received the vaccine were able to produce antibodies capable of fighting SARS infection. Later the monkeys were exposed to the SARS virus and showed no evidence of having the SARS virus in their lungs. The monkeys that did not get the experimental vaccine showed evidence of the SARS virus within eight days after infection with the virus.

Researchers say the monkeys who received the SARS vaccine had developed antibodies against the SARS virus in their blood, which indicates that the immune system had responded to the vaccination.

In the second study, researchers injected a group of ferrets with an experimental antibody, a protein normally created by the immune system to help defend against infection by foreign viruses or bacteria.

Researchers found that ferrets who received the injection were not contagious; they did not shed the virus from their lungs after being exposed to the SARS virus. The antibody injection also completely prevented the development of SARS-related lung damage in exposed animals.

In a commentary that accompanies the studies, Ruth Foxwell of the University of Canberra, Australia, and colleagues say both approaches show promise for reducing the risk of death and disease caused by SARS.

"Whilst further studies are required before these concepts can be applied to human beings, the findings provide exciting strategies for the prevention of disease in target communities and treatment of at-risk individuals," write Foxwell and colleagues.

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