The Emerging Role of DNA Vaccines

W. Michael McDonnell, MD, Western Washington Medical Group, and Frederick K. Askari, MD, PhD, University of Michigan.

In This Article

Other Uses of DNA Vaccines

DNA vaccine technology is being studied for many common problems for which there are no effective alternative treatments. It may play a role in attacking antibiotic resistant strains of microorganisms. Potential targets for DNA vaccine technology include vancomycin-resistant Streptococcus spp, Enterococcus spp, and resistant strains of Pseudomonas. The emergence of resistant strains of tuberculosis and toxicities of current anti-tubercular medications have spurred interest in the DNA vaccine for acid fast bacilli.[15]Plasmodium falciparum DNA vaccines show promise for chloroquine-resistant malaria.[16] Autoimmune diseases such as lupus have also garnered attention due to the potential of anti-idiotype vaccines to "fine tune" an immune system which has lost its proper controls.[17]

DNA vaccines may be used in settings other than the prevention of disease in humans. DNA vaccines designed to target infectious hematopoietic necrosis virus (IHNV) are effective at protecting salmon and rainbow trout from this often fatal blight. Twenty million more fish could survive if methods to deliver DNA vaccines are perfected.[18]Similarly, scientists are working to develop vaccines to treat rabies and other veterinary-related pathogens. If these efforts are successful, humans could enjoy healthier pets and live stock, and human disease arising from pathogens which have a wildlife reservoir could be prevented.[19]

Finally, pioneering studies are testing the utility of DNA vaccines as methods of increasing a cancer victim's immune response to malignant cells. Patient's with melanoma, mesothelioma, renal cell cancer and breast cancer are being treated with gene transfer vaccines engineered to express proteins which stimulate the body's immune response to cancer cells.[20,21] While it is unlikely that any one single strategy will suddenly cure cancer, the small victories which have already been achieved with DNA vaccines have made advocates of gene therapy eager to press forward in developing this powerful clinical tool.


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