Development of syphilis vaccine is one step closer

An international team of scientists co-led by UVic’s Caroline Cameron is one step closer to a vaccine for syphilis.

UVic microbiologist Caroline Cameron and University of Washington’s Sheila Lukehart received a $2.3 million grant (USD) from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The grant will allow them to continue to make headway on vaccine development against syphilis.

Despite prevention, screening and treatment programs, this sexually transmitted disease is on the rise. Worldwide, there are an estimated 36 million cases, with 10.6 million new cases per year.

Rates of reported cases have been climbing steadily throughout Canada, with rates in British Columbia at their highest in 30 years. “We’re hopeful that a vaccine, in combination with screening and treatment efforts, will lead to the eradication of syphilis,” says Cameron.

Cameron is the Canada Research Chair in Molecular Pathogenesis and was recently named president-elect of the International Society for Sexually Transmitted Diseases Research (ISSTDR). She is also one of very few researchers in the world studying how the pathogen that causes syphilis spreads throughout the body.

“It’s an incredibly invasive pathogen,” she says. ”It’s one of the few pathogens that can pass from the bloodstream into the brain and from a woman into a fetus.” In fact, syphilis is one of the leading causes of stillbirth worldwide and recognized as the most significant disease affecting fetuses and newborns in low-income countries.

Cameron has already created a protein vaccine component that will prevent the bacterium from entering the bloodstream. It will be combined with lesion prevention proteins created by Lukehart. The funding provided by NIH will allow the researchers to take the vaccine through pre-clinical trials.