The future of vaccination

Just as current vaccines have eliminated many horrible diseases of the past (or at least mad them manageable), scientists hope that future vaccines will prove effective against diseases we struggle to treat today.

Vaccinomics

Dr. Poland's research group has developed a new area termed "vaccinomics." This is the concept of personalized vaccines — vaccinations that are tailored to an individual's body to maximize effectiveness, and minimize any side effects. The specific genes an individual carries might determine, in large part, whether that person will experience a significant side effect to a vaccine, whether they will respond to the vaccine with protective immune responses, and even how much vaccine is needed to protect them. This is a rapidly emerging area and is likely to inform the development of new vaccines.

Cancer vaccines

Research is being conducted on vaccines that protect against infections that cause certain types of cancer, for instance. Effective vaccines are already available for HPV and Hepatitis B, viruses that can cause cervical cancer and liver cancer. Scientists are also exploring the possibility of vaccines that could teach our immune systems to recognize and destroy cancer cells, although therapeutic vaccines like this may still be a long ways off.

Vaccinating against HIV?

A vaccine against the HIV virus (the cause of AIDS) is also a goal of many vaccine researchers. An HIV vaccine has so far eluded scientists, because the virus doesn’t act quite like the viruses conventional vaccines protect against; the HIV virus's unusual structure protects it from being recognized and destroyed by our immune systems. New research is suggesting that the combination of two vaccines that seem to be ineffectual on their own may actually give some protection against the virus when administered together — not as much as a typical vaccine, but enough that some researchers are interested in pursuing this strategy. Like a cancer vaccine, vaccinations that protect against HIV infection may not exist for many years, but scientists around the world are working hard to create one.

HIV budding color: HIV viruses, colored green in this image, are budding from a white blood cell. These cells, targeted by the virus, are part of the system that would normally fight off an  infection.
HIV budding color: HIV viruses, colored green in this image, are budding from a white blood cell. These cells, targeted by the virus, are part of the system that would normally fight off an infection.
Courtesy the Center for Disease Control