Mayo to start work on Zika vaccine

Poland Dr. Gregory.jpg
Dr. Gregory Poland is an infectious disease and vaccinology expert at Mayo

Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research Group is working on developing a vaccine to protect against the Zika virus, according to an article in Discovery's Edge, Mayo's research magazine.

"My team is starting on this immediately," said Mayo vaccinologist Dr. Gregory Poland.

The Mayo team will collaborate with the Butantan Institute in Brazil and its director, Dr. Joge Kalil, Poland said. That is the largest immunobiology lab in Latin America, producing 90 percent of the vaccines in Brazil.

"We are very pleased to be working with Mayo Clinic on this urgent project," says Dr. Kalil. "We hope to find an answer to this growing problem."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the virus, carried and spread by mosquitos, is believed to have been the cause of an increased level of birth defects, specifically microcephaly – infants with smaller than normal heads – and Guillain-Barré syndrome. It was first reported in Brazil in 2015 and has spread to many countries in Latin America. It was previously active in Asia, Africa and the Pacific Islands.


The Mayo Clinic Vaccine Research Group has been active in advancing discoveries in influenza, rubella, measles and smallpox. There is currently no vaccine for the Zika virus and no treatment for stemming potential birth defects once a woman has been infected.

"My lab designed a way to identify the pieces of a virus that our immune cells respond to and develop immunity against," Dr. Poland said, according to the Discovery's Edge article. "We've done that with measles and smallpox. We'll use that same platform to develop a zika vaccine."

The Mayo team will use a mass spectrometry approach to study human cells infected with the virus. As the cells process and break down the virus into component pieces, said Dr. Poland, the researchers use mass spec to pull out and identify an array of peptides.

The Vaccine Research Group developed a methodology to identify the components that a T-cell sees. That's the immune system's primary defensive cell. The team then uses that information about the peptides to reverse-engineer a vaccine.

Dr. Poland says that will be handy as the Zika virus flares up in a population and then moves on, so when and how any vaccine would be deployed is still being discussed.

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