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OU Medical Researchers Make Major Breakthrough, Could Save Many Lives

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Gan Matthews, News 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- It's a major breakthrough that could end up saving hundreds of thousands of lives. Oklahoma's own have come up with a way to ward off the bacteria that causes most childhood pneumonia.

The bacteria that causes pneumonia and infections of the brain and blood, pneumococcus, kills over 800,000 children around the world each year.

Current vaccines are only effective against 23 of the 90 strains of the bacteria, and only about 13 are effective with children.

OU researcher Rodney Tweten is spearheading research to develop a more effective vaccine. He believes the solution is a vaccine that is protein-based.

"If we can find proteins that are common to all of these pathogenic strains of streptococcus pneumonia, then we can immunize, make one vaccine and protect against all of them," Tweten says.

The OU research has developed a way to render harmless the toxin that causes pneumonia and also to cause an appropriate immune response by the body.

OU has filed for patent protection, and sees a world of possibilities.

"We have a novel protein that potentially could be a component of not only current vaccines, but also future new vaccines," says Dr. Gina McMillen, researcher at OU Technology Development.

Because it is protein-based, the vaccine will have enormous implications for children in the developing world, especially because it is easier and cheaper to produce.

"The CDC has also looked back at what medical intervention has saved the most lives over the past century, and it is vaccines," says Dr. Robert Welliver, researcher at OU College of Medicine. "It's not anti-biotics, it's not surgical procedures, it's vaccines."

The vaccine will go through clinical trials in a year or so. But it will be a few years before it's on the market for human use.

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