Vaccines have conquered smallpox and polio, but they've proven ineffectual against diseases like gonorrhea, which are best battled at the site of the invasion. Two microbiologists are fighting back with a vaccine that operates where it is needed most. Other researchers also have site-specific attacks on salmonella, influenza, and cholera in the works.
Ann Jerse of the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Maryland, and Denis Martin of Laval University in Quebec City targeted gonorrhea because it is so widespread--it affects 62 million people around the world each year. The researchers concocted a vaccine with proteins derived from the gonorrhea bacterium. They then sprayed the vaccine into the noses of laboratory mice. There, it passed into the mucosa, a soft, wet tissue-lining present in the gut, lungs, nose, and vagina.
Disease-fighting white blood cells in the nose, activated by the vaccine, quickly reached the vagina. Vaccinated mice beat back gonorrhea in just four days. "This is the first time anyone has shown significant protection against colonization by this bacterium in an animal," says Jerse.
The assault on gonorrhea may be particularly timely, because the disease is becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics. Jerse and Martin hope to test a version of their vaccine in humans within a decade.