Our researchers strive to understand how vaccines trigger immune responses that protect against infections, and develop new vaccines for significant diseases.
Our vaccine research benefits from our researchers’ expertise in infectious diseases and how long-term immunity to infections develops.
An important goal of our research is to develop and test vaccines for malaria.
Vaccines are preparations that stimulate protective immune responses against an infection or toxin, using a harmless component, or weakened form of the infectious agent or toxin. For example, most current vaccines stimulate the production of immune proteins called antibodies that specifically neutralise the particular infection or toxin against which the vaccine has been made.
Vaccines can take several forms. They may be:
Some vaccines also contain substances, called adjuvants, that boost the immune response.
Most vaccines are given as injections, introducing the vaccine into a muscle or a layer of the skin. Some vaccines, particularly for infections that enter the body through the digestive tract, are given orally. The route of delivery of a vaccine influences the characteristics of the protective immunity that is developed.
There are many pre-clinical stages of research before a vaccine for a disease can be developed. This research addresses questions including:
If a vaccine shows promise in pre-clinical testing, it may enter clinical trials. These involve giving the vaccine to volunteers to test:
These steps can take many years. If a vaccine is shown to be safe, and beneficial for protecting people against infection, it may be approved by government bodies for clinical use.
Depending on the prevalence and severity of the infection in a community, the vaccine may be recommended:
All vaccines available for use in humans are thoroughly assessed for safety by independent health authorities and researchers. Vaccines are only approved for use if they are proven to be beneficial in protecting against a potentially serious infection.
In some cases, rare side-effects can occur in a small number of people who receive a vaccine. These are typically less serious, and much less likely than potential side-effects of the infection the vaccine aims to protect against
When a vaccine is recommended for a person, it is because any risk of receiving the vaccine is outweighed by the risk of not being vaccinated and contracting the relevant infection.
The Australian Academy of Science’s The Science of Immunisation booklet provides scientifically valid answers to many of the frequently asked questions about vaccination and vaccine safety.
Usually vaccination refers to treatments that trigger immune responses. Some vaccines are being developed that switch off harmful immune responses.
An example is a nasal insulin spray developed by our researchers that is now in clinical trials for preventing type 1 diabetes in susceptible people. The treatment is being tested for its ability to turn off the harmful immune responses to insulin-secreting pancreatic cells that cause type 1 diabetes.