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Wednesday, 6 March, 2002, 15:27 GMT
Hopes rise for meningitis vaccine
A meningitis C vaccination is already available
Details of a "significant" step forward in the search for a vaccine against all strains of meningitis have been unveiled by scientists.

The potential vaccine was unveiled at the second annual conference of the Meningitis Association of Scotland at Edinburgh's Lister Postgraduate Institute.

The discovery, using a less toxic molecule to mimic the real one, was made by its sponsored scientists in Germany and Australia.

Pre-clinical tests are now being conducted and the vaccine could be in use within four years.

Given the fact that his brain was affected we will be keeping a close eye on how develops anyway, but there was not a lot of emphasis put on other aspects of his development

Mick McGlinchey
However, the breakthrough could have been made in Scotland had a lack of funding for research posts not forced the charity to move its scientists to other countries last year.

A vaccine already exists which has dramatically reduced the number of cases of meningitis C.

It is hoped a vaccine for meningitis B would have a similar effect in reducing the number of those affected.

Meningitis B is a dangerous condition affecting the brain and spine. Some 106 people in Scotland developed the disease last year, three of whom died.

If successful, the potential new vaccine - which doctors said could be 95% effective against the B strain - could drastically cut the number of sufferers in Scotland.

It could also provide additional protection against meningitis C and the rarer A strain of the disease.

Mick McGlinchey, Audrey and Luke
Mick McGlinchey: "Hearing was a concern"

The Glasgow-based charity was founded by Eileen and Hugh McKiernan after the disease claimed the life of their 18-year-old son Lee.

In addition to establishing the charity, they have also raised more than 250,000 for research into a vaccine.

One of the scientists behind the breakthrough, Dr Jan Matthias Braun, said: "The new vaccine strategy is based on mechanisms associated with the development of natural immunity to meningococcal disease found in older adults and children."

Dr Braun said the search for a meningitis B vaccine had been hindered because a sugar coating on the outside of the bacteria was similar to one found in children's brains.

Developing antibodies to attack it would have been ineffective - or could have caused brain damage.

Better monitoring

But the research team bypassed the problem by training antibodies to neutralise the damaging toxic waste emitted into the blood stream by meningococcal bacteria.

The research teams believe the antibodies could be induced to attack meningococcal bacteria from A and C strains, as well as clearing up the toxic waste released by the B strain.

The charity's conference also called for better monitoring of children who survive the disease.

It said that it had strong anecdotal evidence that many survivors suffer side effects later in life.

It's important that we identify children early to make sure they are given adequate learning support as they start school

Professor David Harvey
The charity took the opportunity to call for more research on the long-term effects of the condition.

It said parents had reported behavioural problems such as temper tantrums, while adult survivors were experiencing mood swings or physical difficulties.

However, many survivors have no idea their symptoms may be a result of meningitis.

BBC Scotland's Mick McGlinchey, whose son Luke has recovered after contracting meningitis in January, said that there was concern that the six-month-old child's hearing could be affected.

His hearing will continue to be monitored, but when he was released from hospital his parents were told that, as far as doctors could tell, the recovery was full.

Long-term problems

Mick said: "Given the fact that his brain was affected we will be keeping a close eye on how develops anyway, but there was not a lot of emphasis put on other aspects of his development."

Meanwhile, leading medical research charity Action Research said it had funded a pioneering research study which proved meningitis survivors can go on to have long-term problems.

A study led by Professor David Harvey, of London's Hammersmith Hospital, revealed that infants who survived meningitis are more likely to display disruptive behaviour, such as difficulties with school work and relationships, than their classmates.

He said: "It's important that we identify children early to make sure they are given adequate learning support as they start school, thereby helping lessen the possibility of bad behaviour."

Health correspondent Eleanor Bradford reports
"The possible development of a vaccine could help both past patients and present patients"
See also:

15 Oct 01 | Health
Meningitis B cases rising
09 Sep 01 | Scotland
Meningitis jabs reach record levels
06 Sep 01 | Health
Disability toll of meningitis
06 Jan 01 | Scotland
New bid to beat meningitis C
03 Jan 01 | Scotland
Meningitis fight 'not over'
03 Jan 01 | Health
Brain disease 'wiped out'
03 Jan 01 | Health
Q&A: Meningitis vaccine success
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