A menu of 61 new strains of genetically engineered bacteria may mean better vaccines for diseases like flu, whooping cough, cholera, and HPV. The strains of E. coli are part of a new class of biological “adjuvants”—substances added to vaccines to boost the human immune response—that are poised to transform vaccine design, researchers say.
“For 70 years the only adjuvants being used were aluminum salts,” says Stephen Trent, associate professor of biology at the University of Texas at Austin. “They worked, but we didn’t fully understand why, and there were limitations. Then four years ago the first biological adjuvant was approved by the Food and Drug Administration. I think what we’re doing is a step forward from that. It’s going to allow us to design vaccines in a much more intentional way.”