Dr. Qizhi Cathy Yao awarded NIH grant to develop better vaccine adjuvants for diseases including pan
Virus-like particles can induce protective immune responses against various viral infections, but cannot cause an infection as the original viruses do. Image by Scott Holmes, CMI, Surgical Research Core.

Dr. Qizhi Cathy Yao, professor of surgery, molecular virology and microbiology, and pathology & immunology at Baylor College of Medicine, has been awarded a National Institutes of Health grant to fund a collaborative project with Molecular Express, Inc. The project is based on their virus-like particle (VLP) vaccine strategy.

Virus-like particles have the unique property of inducing strong immune responses but they lack the infectious capacities of the original virus. In preclinical studies, VLPs formed by structural proteins are highly immunogenic. When VLPs are conjugated with VesiVax® formulations containing toll-like receptor agonists, strong humoral and cellular immune responses against various diseases can be generated. 

Previously, Yao's lab studied the basic mechanisms of VLP-induced immune responses and other factors that affect these responses. For example, they found that VLP vaccines activate conventional B2 cells and promote B cell differentiation to IgG2a-producing plasma cells. They also found that VLP vaccines travel to the lymph nodes upon immunization and can be directly visualized with optical imaging techniques. In addition, intradermal immunization generates improved responses and might be a preferable delivery route for viral and cancer immunotherapeutic studies involving VLPs.

In this new study, Yao will use the "VesiVax® System: Vaccine Development Made Easy" to develop better adjuvants for many different diseases, including pancreatic cancer and Chagas disease.

This research was supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health under award number R44AI094770.