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European Biopharmaceutical Review

Particle Acceleration

First established more than 200 years ago as a defence against infectious diseases, vaccine development proliferated in the mid-20th century as researchers began to fully exploit the use of inactive and attenuated disease strains. The key to a successful vaccine is to identify and isolate an agent that can be safely administered to the patient to trigger a sufficiently protective immune response, without causing a full-blown illness. For some diseases, a completely inactive strain performs this function, while for others attenuation or modification of an active strain – often by passaging through animal embryos – provides an answer.

More recently, newer vaccine technologies have been adopted to tackle diseases not amenable to these traditional approaches. Today’s researchers routinely deploy subunit and conjugate vaccines – both of which contain only fractions of the pathogen for which they provide protection – and viruslike particles (VLPs). These ‘trick’ the body into an immune response by precisely mimicking the morphology and outer surface of the live virus, but lack the genetic material needed to reproduce, thereby offering the same levels of safety as inactive vaccines. In vivo, such VLPs must be effectively indistinguishable from the active pathogen, so their structure is critical.

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Professor Dave Stuart is Medical Research Council Professor of structural biology at the University of Oxford, UK, and joint-head of the division of structural biology at the Department of Clinical Medicine. He was appointed Director of Life Sciences at Diamond Light Source in 2008. Dave’s principal research interests include the structure of viruses and viral proteins, as well as cellular proteins, especially those that interact with viruses.
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