May 31, 2012
Ashley Pitlyk

SLU Tests New Meningitis Vaccine

The vaccine would protect against meningococcal B disease, the leading cause of meningitis in industrialized countries.

Scientists at Saint Louis University's Center for Vaccine Development will conduct a clinical trial of an investigational vaccine for meningococcal B disease, the only remaining predominant meningococcal serogroup for which no vaccine is available. The trial is part of a national study.

Ed Anderson
Ed Anderson, pictured in his office at the Center for Vaccine Development, is leading the trial to develop a vaccine for meningococcal B disease. Photo by Danielle Lacey

Meningococcal meningitis is a serious, potentially life-threatening bacterial infection. Early symptoms are often hard to distinguish from more common illnesses like the flu, but the disease can advance very rapidly, with patients progressing from onset of symptoms like headache and nausea to more serious complications or even death within hours.

Worldwide, there are 500,000 cases of meningococcal meningitis each year, with at least 50,000 deaths. Meningococcus B is now the leading cause of meningitis in industrialized countries and accounts for about one-third of cases of invasive meningococcal disease in North America and up to 80 percent of cases in some parts of Europe. From 2005 to 2010, there were about 1,000 cases of meningococcal meningitis reported each year in the United States.

While meningococcal B disease can occur at any age, it most often strikes infants and young adults. In fact, adolescents are the primary carriers of the bacteria that cause the disease. On average, one in five adolescents who develop meningococcal meningitis will die from it. Those who survive are often afflicted with long-term disabilities, such as brain damage and hearing loss.

Because a delay in treatment for meningococcal meningitis can have life threatening consequences, finding a safe and effective vaccine is a top priority, said Edwin Anderson, M.D., a researcher at SLU's Center for Vaccine Development and professor of internal medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine.

"An effective adolescent vaccine against meningococcal B disease has the potential to help save lives and reduce emotional and psychological stress caused by long-term consequences of the disease," Anderson said. "It could also help close the gap in meningitis protection, by helping to protect adolescents from the only remaining predominant meningococcal serogroup for which no vaccine is available."

For the clinical study, SLU is recruiting children ages 10 to 12 to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of the investigational vaccine. During the study, some participants may receive the research vaccine along with currently available and recommended vaccines to prevent meningococcal A, C, W-135 and Y disease. Thus, to qualify for the study, participants must be healthy children who have not yet received these vaccines.

For more information about the study, contact the Saint Louis University Center for Vaccine Development at and 314-977-6333.

Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: cancer, infectious disease, liver disease, aging and brain disease and heart/lung disease.

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