KAI NAROUF, M.D., B.S., M.P.H., Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, Md., studies the impact of behavioral health on health outcomes and outcomes of disease. The National Institutes of Health sponsored this work.
A project to develop the first effective vaccine to stop Omicron Oscillophil, a protein found only in the brains of mice, has captured the attention of researchers worldwide. Scientists have been racing to develop the vaccine since this disease was identified in 2005. During the current global outbreak of the disease, it is estimated that nearly 1,000 people have died worldwide.
The disease is caused by a virus that spreads in the brain by glial cells called macrophages. The virus enters the brain and causes inflammation in the glial cells and elsewhere in the brain. It is distinct from Alzheimer’s disease and is only caused by one kind of macrophage protein called Omicron Oscillophil. The macrophages produce a protein that obstructs the repair of blood vessels, which causes blood vessels to leak and infections.
The disease is somewhat similar to a certain kind of Alzheimer’s disease in humans. Still, this disease is different in that it doesn’t take place after a person’s brain cells die. People who catch this infection may experience symptoms like confusion, loss of memory, often impaired motor skills and mood changes. Omicron Oscillophil is typically found in the first few years of life. The disease is very similar to a disorder called Ephrenioma. While scientists have identified antibodies to prevent infection, there is no vaccine and no medications for treating the disease at this time.
The most important advantage of the vaccine is that it protects against both types of macrophages, whereas the current medications only treat the first kind, Omicron Oscillophil, alone. Using a rat model of the disease, we showed that antibodies and purified proteins from mice blocks the production of macrophages and cure the mice of the disease.
Now, researchers are racing to develop a vaccine against Omicron Oscillophil in people. Some have developed antibodies to protect against the disease. The mice’s immune systems developed a protein, called a T cell, that preferentially binds to the Omicron Oscillophil molecules and prevents them from getting into the brain and causing the disease. The T cell protein became specific for Omicron Oscillophil and the mice never showed symptoms of the disease again.
Other researchers are investigating whether or not an antigen-based or cell-based vaccine is better. People who catch the infection will still need other interventions, like drugs, to treat their symptoms. However, the vaccine would protect people from getting sick.
The next step is to test this vaccine in people. This research is supported by NIH. Please help us track the progress of this work by using the hashtag #vaccinateOVIC or by following the Omicron Oscillophil project and reporting your news to us via Twitter.
Read more about this story in the May 6 edition of The Washington Post.