Research done at King’s College London suggests that skin vaccination may be helpful for attracting protective immune cells to genital tissue, thus possibly preventing sexually transmitted infections.
The team showed that their vaccination strategy can make immune cells in the genital tissues to work in concert to prevent STIs. It results in the release of chemicals that draw protective T-cells into the genital issue.
Scientists have found it difficult all this time to determine how best to make CD8 T-cells to be present at the point where a virus first enters the body. This reality makes developing effective vaccines for HIV and other STIs a daunting task.
It is of less help, if any, when immune cells have to move from the blood into tissues to prevent infections. It is best that the cells are already in position to fight any possible infection.
In the light of the foregoing challenge, the findings by the King’s College researchers could prove revolutionary. It could make better vaccinations against infections people commonly get through sex.
The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.
Promising vaccination strategy
Researchers already knew that the best means of ensuring vaccines’ efficacy is by delivering them to a body surface directly. This could mean, for instance, putting them in female genital tissue, where an infection could start.
However, it is not ideal administering vaccines precisely to the female genital tissue. Some patients might not like the idea.
The strategy used by researchers in the current study involves skin vaccination. It makes numerous immune cells – innate lymphoid cells (ILC1) and monocytes – in the genital tissue to function somewhat in synergy. The cells produce chemokines, chemicals that recruit specialized CD8 T-cells to the genital tissue.
Findings suggest that this vaccination strategy may be helpful for preventing STIs.
“This study highlights how specialized groups of ‘innate’ immune cells in distant tissues can be harnessed to attract protective CD8 T-cells, arming the body’s frontline tissues from infection,” said lead author Linda Klavinskis, a professor at King’s College London.
Proving the findings
The study builds on earlier research by the team. The scientists had developed a skin vaccination strategy involving the use of a dissolvable patch.
When placed on the skin, the “microneedle” vaccine patch dissolves and releases the vaccine to produce immune responses. This technique removes the need for a hypodermic needle for injection. It is more convenient and comes with no pain.
Having demonstrated the working of their vaccination strategy, the team planned to shift focus to other vaccines. They were looking to try other vaccine types different from that used in the study. The goal was to find out whether skin vaccination activates a common pathway.
If the results are confirmed in later studies, researchers may be able to develop more effective vaccines against sexually transmitted infections.