Northern Ontario School of Medicine researchers have made early progress on a vaccine for a potentially fatal bacterial pathogen found in First Nations populations in northwestern Ontario.
Haemophilus influenza type A is an invasive bacterial pathogen that primarily targets people with compromised immune systems – the very young and the frail elderly.
When the bacteria enters the blood stream, it can cause serious lung inflammation and pneumonia, and inflammation of the lining of the brain – called meningitis.
The latter condition is especially dangerous in young children.
Dr. Marina Ulanova, an associate professor with the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, and one of the lead vaccine researchers, said infection from the haemophilus influenza type A is primarily found in people of Aboriginal descent.
“The incidence rate of this infection (in northwestern Ontario) is the second largest after the incidence rate in the Canadian Arctic,” she said.
In the Arctic, the infection is almost exclusively found in the Inuit.
Ulanova said First Nations people actually have a higher amount of antibodies to fight the infection than non-First Nations people.
“It sounds contradictory because it's difficult to understand why First Nations people would be more susceptible to this infection,” she said.
But the exceptions are children under the age of three and the frail elderly, who have almost no natural immunity to the infection.
Ulanova and her team have collaborated with the National Research Council of Canada, in Ottawa, and the American Center for Disease Control and Prevention – due to a prevalence of the infection in Alaska – to develop the vaccine.
She said they are still at the early stages, and currently looking to find a suitable antigen to prepare the vaccine.
Over a period of four to five years they will proceed with pre-clinical development of the vaccine, testing on animals, safety trials with human subjects, and final approval.
Ulanova said she is confident the vaccine will eventually be approved.
“We've made essential progress,” she said.