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Wednesday, November 25, 1998 Published at 07:52 GMT


Scientists optimistic about meningitis vaccine

Vaccines have already been developed for some forms of the disease

Scientists in Scotland have been given an £80,000 grant to research a vaccine for one of the most deadly forms of meningitis.

Researchers at Aberdeen University are using a new technique which they hope will speed up attempts to find a vaccine for group B meningococcal meningitis.

This is the bug that causes between 50 and 60% of all meningococcal disease in the UK.

Most cases do not lead to lasting damage, but some can be fatal.

A vaccine has been developed to fight other forms of the bug, but for group C disease - the second most common form - this is not effective in very young children.

However, a new vaccine is being tested now and could be on the market within two years.

Speeding up the search

A vaccine for group B meningitis is proving more difficult to come by because of the complex make-up of the bug.

The scientists, led by Professor Hugh Pennington, say they hope their new technique, called proteome analysis, can speed up the search.

They want to find the proteins which the bug produces when it is in the human body.

They believe this may help them to isolate proteins which could be used to stimulate the immune system to develop resistance to the bug.

Up to now, scientists have been struggling to find a technique which is fast enough to catalogue the many proteins on the surface of the bacterium.

[ image: Professor Pennington says he is
Professor Pennington says he is "quite optimistic" about the new technique
Meningitis, like flu, is able to change its form quite quickly and develop new strains, making it difficult to find a vaccine.

The researchers have been given the £80,000 grant by the Meningitis Research Foundation to cover the first two years of their research.

"It is a very exciting new approach," said a spokeswoman for the Foundation, which is funding 11 projects looking for vaccines for meningitis - most of them for the group B form.

"One of the main problems is that the bugs are so variable. Cuba produced a vaccine that appeared to work, but it does not seem to work outside the country," she added.


Professor Pennington says he is "quite optimistic" about the new research.

He is also overseeing another research project into a new antibiotic to treat the close contacts of someone who has developed meningitis.

There are fears that the bug is developing resistance to some antibiotics.

His scientists believe they may have identified a new antibiotic.

"Resistance to antibiotics by the meningitis bug is not yet a serious problem, but we want to get more information to be able to advise people to use procedures which will not make the situation worse," he said.

"We often don't realise there is a problem until it is too late."

He added that antibiotics were vital in the absence of any vaccine for group B meningococcal meningitis.

Brain disease

There are two types of meningitis, which causes swelling of the lining of the brain.

Viral meningitis is rarely life-threatening, but bacterial meningitis is more dangerous.

It comes in two forms, of which meningococcal meningitis is the most common in the UK.

There are three types of meningococcal meningitis, including group B meningitis.

Symptoms of meningitis include fever, a stiff neck, a rash and headaches.

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