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Will Synthetic Vaccine Stop Polio?


FILE - A Pakistani health worker gives a polio vaccine to a child in Islamabad, Dec. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash)

FILE - A Pakistani health worker gives a polio vaccine to a child in Islamabad, Dec. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash)


More than fifty years ago, researchers developed an oral vaccine against the deadly virus, polio. The vaccine, taken by mouth, is credited with almost stopping the spread of polio. Now, researchers are looking ahead to the time when the disease will exist only in a laboratory.

Researchers in Britain are working on developing a synthetic, or man-made, polio vaccine. Until now, researchers developed the vaccine from live or weakened virus.

The new vaccine would contain synthetic particles, instead of the real virus, and would be injected into the person. The body would then create particles to fight off the infection. That is called an immune response.

The new vaccine does not contain the live virus. So, there would be no risk of exposure, even in the case of an accidental release during the manufacturing process.

Dave Stuart is a professor of biology at Oxford University. He is also Life Sciences Director at Diamond Light Source, the United Kingdom’s high-tech light science company. He and his team make the synthetic vaccines using x-rays and other scientific techniques. He says the man-made polio vaccine could, over time, remove the infection in nature as the microbe, or virus, dies out.

"What we are trying to sort of think through is how do we get to the point where we can stop vaccinating? And ..if the vaccine is not a virus, then you have got the chance of not producing virus and not have virus circulating in the environment. It will be very difficult but one would hope that eventually you would be able to eradicate the virus. And then one could stop vaccination because then the virus would have gone completely."

Professor Stuart says researchers have put together the pieces for the new polio vaccine. The resulting vaccine, he says, is easy to make quickly and easy to store.

Now, they are waiting for studies on the vaccine’s effectiveness.

The researchers received funding from the World Health Organization and from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They presented the vaccine at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in California.

I’m Anne Ball

VOA’s Jessica Berman reported this story from Washington. Anne Ball wrote it for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

oral vaccine n. a vaccine that is taken by mouth, like the polio vaccine

synthetic adj. not natural, made by combining different substances

technique n. a way of doing something, or making something, by using special knowledge or skill

microbe n. an extremely small living thing that can only be seen with a microscope, (like a virus)

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