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New information about the way that the rotavirus — a leading cause of diarrhoea — infects human cells could lead to a cheap and stable vaccine against the disease, according to researchers from the Children's Hospital in Boston, in the United States.

Philip Dormitzer and his colleagues studied the structure of a protein found on the surface of rotavirus, which infects virtually all children and kills about 440,000 of them each year, mainly in developing countries.

Their findings, published last Thursday (26 August) in the journal Nature, identified some of the key components of the protein that play a role in helping the virus penetrate cells. Dormitzer et al found that these components also contain many of the targets that the immune system recognises when it attacks the virus to protect against infection.

The researchers say their findings could help create a vaccine against rotavirus that would only include these key portions of the virus, since these would be sufficient to trigger a full immune response against the virus.

According to the researchers, such a vaccine could be kept at room temperature and would be "easy and relatively cheap to produce".

The team is now collaborating with researchers at Stanford University and the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases at the US National Institutes of Health to develop a vaccine based on their research findings. Dormitzer told SciDev.Net that these studies were in the early stages of animal testing.

Link to full research article in Nature

Link to Harvard Medical School press release

Reference: Nature 430, 1053 (2004)

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