HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Case Western Reserve University School of Law

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Housecleaning, Part V: First Licensed DNA Vaccine

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has licensed the first DNA vaccine.  According to a news release, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Fort Dodge Animal Health, an animal biologics and pharmaceutical company, have developed the vaccine to protect horses from West Nile virus.  However, this is the first step in the future development of human DNA vaccines.  Dr. Julie Gerberding, CDC Director, stated that "this science will allow for the development of safer and more effective human and animal vaccines more quickly."  Unlike traditional vaccines, DNA vaccines use carefully selected small pieces of the virus's genetic material that stimulate the vaccine recipient's body to develop protective immunity.  Traditional vaccines use a weakened or killed virus to stimulate immunity development.   

DNA vaccines have several important advantages over traditional vaccines:

  1. a DNA vaccine can be adapted easily for a similar organism, which would allow for a quick turnaround time during an emerging epidemic;
  2. DNA vaccines are less vulnerable to temperature changes, which would greatly benefit developing areas such as Africa;
  3. multiple DNA vaccine candidates can be combined into a single DNA vaccination which would allow vaccination against multiple viruses at the same time; and
  4. those vaccinated with the DNA vaccine can be differentiated form those that have been naturally infected (which would be a huge help to public health disease monitoring). 

If more information would be useful, you could do worse than to start at University of Kansas microbiology prof Jack Brown's page, "What the Heck Is DNA Vaccine?," which builds upon his infamous essays, "What the Heck Is a Gene?," "What the Heck is an Antibody?," and the unforgettable "What the Heck is an MHC Molecule?".

Lindley Bain provided help on this story.  [twm]

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