Smallpox is a highly contagious and sometimes fatal disease caused by the variola virus. Thanks to a successful worldwide vaccination program, the last naturally occurring infection was in 1977 and in 1980, smallpox was declared eradicated.
After that, routine immunization against smallpox was stopped. However, there is a continued need to maintain a safe and effective vaccine, and the smallpox vaccine can protect against the similar virus, monkeypox. The original live vaccine produced in the 1970’s is in limited supply, and does not meet the current safety standards. In addition, there is now a much better understanding of which vaccine components are critical to generating an immune response that will stimulate the humoral (antibody) and cellular (T cell) arms of the immune system. Vaccines must stimulate both humoral and cellular immunity in order to produce robust, protective, and long lasting immunity. For these reasons, there is a clear need to develop better vaccine candidates.
Dr. Clemencia Pinilla and Dr. Valeria Judkowski are working to identify the smallpox proteins and antigens that most effectively stimulate our immune system. This work will be informative in the design of smallpox vaccines that generate a strong protective response, and their methods can be readily applied to examine the immune response to other pathogens.